Can You Still Buy Affordable Classic Cars in 2021?

Stories of $205,000 GNXs and six-figure restomods may make it seem like there aren’t any affordable classic cars left. But that’s not the case. Although it’s now easier than ever to bid on classic vehicles, that hasn’t priced everyone out of the vintage market. Even if your budget is relatively modest, you might still be able to afford a classic car.

‘Affordable classic cars,’ though, is admittedly a somewhat vague definition. That’s why this guide was built with two rules in mind. First, all the cars described here are at least 25 years old, a common guideline for defining a classic. And secondly, they can all be consistently found for under $10K according to Hagerty and Bring a Trailer.

Want an affordable classic luxury car? Buy a Mercedes

A silver 1988 Mercedes E-Class Estate with roof boxes on a snow-covered mountain
Classic 1988 Mercedes E-Class Estate | Mercedes-Benz

Classic luxury cars aren’t necessarily thought of as being affordable. However, there are a number of vintage premium vehicles that are available for $10,000 or less. And many of them don’t require expensive maintenance, either.

Several of these affordable classic luxury cars bear the Mercedes star. One of them is the stalwart W124 E-Class, perhaps the best choice for someone’s first classic car. There’s also its contemporary, the compact 190E, aka the W201. The M3-rivaling 190E 2.3-16 falls outside the $10K limit, but the regular W201 models exhibit all the hallmarks and quality of Mercedes in the 1980s, Hagerty says.

A red 1967 Mercedes 'W114' 250C coupe in the snow-covered mountains
Classic 1967 Mercedes ‘W114’ 250C | Mercedes-Benz

Rounding out the list of affordable vintage Mercedes cars are the ‘Stroke 8’ models, aka the W114/W115. Available as coupes and sedans with both diesel and gasoline powertrains, the 1968-1976 Stroke 8s were fairly advanced for their time, Hemmings reports. They offer four-wheel disc brakes, fully independent suspension, and what Road & Track describes as “an inherent coolness.” And while they’re rising in value, you can still find examples for under $10K.

Mercedes isn’t the only choice for affordable classic luxury cars, though

A tan 1975 BMW E21 3 Series coupe driving down a gravel road
1975 BMW E21 3 Series | BMW

If you’re not a Mercedes fan, there are other luxurious affordable classic cars to choose from. For example, R&T lists the BMW 3 Series as a solid choice for a reasonably-priced classic. And while some generations of the 3 Series cost more than $10K, others slip within that budget limit.

One of those is the very first 3 Series, the 1975-1983 E21, which succeeded the beloved 2002. And just squeaking in under the 25-year and $10K limits is the third-gen E36 3 Series. Although it’s not as iconic as its predecessor, the E30, the E36 has better suspension and ergonomics, BaT notes. It’s also more spacious and luxurious, but still fun to drive.

Moving on from Germany to Scandinavia brings the next group of affordable classic luxury cars. The Saab 900 was arguably as much a hot hatch as a luxury car, especially in Turbo form. But even in non-turbocharged form, it offers a quality interior with a surprising amount of safety. And there’s also the Volvo 240, a boxy icon of durability and sensible design, Hagerty describes. Plus, you can get it as a sedan, coupe, and wagon.

Finally, there’s a more modern classic: the Lexus LS400. With its affordably-priced over-engineered, ultra-reliable design it shocked the luxury car world upon its 1990 debut. Plus, these sedans still feel solidly built by modern standards. And The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah famously got one LS400’s odometer to 1,000,000 miles without an engine rebuild.

What kind of affordable classic sports cars can you buy?

Luxury vehicles aren’t the only kinds of affordable classic cars, though. Several vintage sports cars can also be found for $10,000 or less.

While it wasn’t the first RWD British convertible sports car, the MG MGB is one of the most iconic. A considerably more modern vehicle than its predecessor, the MGA, the MGB was once the most popular convertible ever sold. And not only is it still affordable today, but it’s also available as an even faster coupe, the MGB GT.

The MGB’s reign as the most popular convertible, though, was ended by one car: the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Although directly inspired by classic Lotuses, the NA Miata offers the same kind of fun handling as the MGB. And yes, the NA Miata is now old enough to be considered a classic. To be sure, some special-edition NAs have become collectible. But overall, early MX-5s are still enjoyable and affordable classic sports cars.

Speaking of the Miata, the modern ND has a platform cousin in the form of the Fiat 124 Spider. Only that’s not the first 124 Spider. The original 124 Spider was sold from 1966-1982 as a kind of Italian MGB alternative. But with double-wishbone front suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, a comfortable ride, and a relatively spacious interior, the Fiat roadster has its own charms, BaT explains. And while early examples tend to break our $10K limit, later 124 Spiders are more affordable. Plus, they have fuel injection, better steering, and more power.

Coupes are available, too

However, roadsters aren’t the only affordable classic sports cars on the market. There’s also the Porsche 924, the front-engine successor to the mid-engine (and collectible) 914.

Although some brand purists look down on the ‘entry-level’ 924, it’s a better sports car than the E21 3 Series, Hagerty says. It’s also not too slow for modern traffic and offers solid build quality. And while the higher-performance trims command a premium, a well-maintained 924 is nowhere near as expensive as a 911.

A green 1972 Fiat X1/9
1972 Fiat X1/9 | Fiat

But if you do want an affordable classic mid-engine sports car, there’s one available: the Fiat X1/9. True, its 1.3-liter and 1.5-liter four-cylinder engines aren’t particularly powerful, especially in US-trim. However, the X1/9’s fully independent suspension and mid-engine layout make it genuinely fun to drive. And for a 1970s sports car, it’s rather safe, Silodrome explains, with proper crumple zones, a roll bar, and a reinforced passenger cell. Plus, there’s its Bertone styling.

So, when it comes to classic cars, you don’t necessarily have to be made of money to buy one. Whether you want something luxurious, practical, or sporty, there are options out there. Just make sure to take some precautionary steps before you sign any checks.

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