It happens all the time. You see a perfectly restored muscle car from Detroit’s golden age and you start to drool. Then you find out it went for $68,000 at auction. For that type of money, you could buy a brand-new Camaro ZL1 or the 2007 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and have plenty left over. But that wasn’t the point. Finding a classic was the idea. If only the nice ones were affordable.
Actually, the muscle car boom — which lasted roughly from 1965 to ’75 — left behind scores of treasures for enthusiasts. Without an intense search, you can find examples of the era’s best nameplates for less than Toyota charges to drive a new Corolla off the lot. You don’t have to be a wizard with a wrench, either, though it would help in the long run.
To make our point, we picked out 10 vintage rides that had multiple listings around $15,000 or less, and we did not include auctions. Here are 10 classic muscle cars almost anyone can afford.
1. 1968 Mercury Cougar
As the gentleman’s muscle car, Mercury Cougar served as the upscale alternative to Mustang. It was a few inches longer, featured a better finish, and showcased a distinctive grille that hasn’t lost any bite after all these years. At press time, buyers could drive home a gorgeous 1968 model in red from Northern California for $13,000. There are many other deals like this one out there. Though the Cougar bested the Ford icon in some respects, it was never as popular, and its affordable prices reflect it.
2. 1971 Chevrolet Nova
For some, the 1971 Chevrolet Nova has everything you could want in a muscle car. Few vehicles showcased the same level of compact aggression Nova did, and its place in films like Deathproof (2008) only cemented its legacy. If this is your dream car, you don’t have to save forever. We found several Novas of the era at great prices, including a green one with a vicious black hood scoop for $12,900.
3. 1969 Pontiac Firebird
Though Camaro sold in much higher volumes in the late 1960s, average prices matched against Pontiac Firebird put them in the same range for 1969. In fact, Firebird 400 models actually come in lower than a Camaro SS with comparable horsepower. Their best prices are around $11,000. We caught a gorgeous orange model for $16,995 in Redlands (Calif.) at time of writing. It’s a bit over our stated budget, but the condition warrants the splurge.
4. 1965 Ford Mustang
The scale of the original Ford Mustang craze guarantees classic car lovers can find one within any budget. To put it in perspective, Ford sold over 1 million between 1965 and ’66. If you have your eyes on, say, a ’65 fastback in red, you can pick up an original model for $13,750 out west. Maybe you prefer a restored ’65 Mustang convertible in white? That costs $15,500 in Jersey. The hunt only begins here.
5. 1974 Dodge Charger
While classic Challengers are hard to find below $15,000, vintage car lovers have an easier time with third-generation Dodge Chargers (1971–74).We spotted a tasty model in white with black stripes ($13,995) and the original V8 on Classiccars.com as well as one in gold with black details for a few bucks more ($14,500). Both hail from the 1974 model year, so think ’74 when you start your search and expand from there.
6. 1973 Mercury Comet
Pound for pound, the Mercury Comet often bested Mustang in the power-weight ratio, and vintage car lovers won’t compromise at all on looks, either. Because Comet sold nothing like Mustang did, this model will be harder to find, but not necessarily more expensive. Take a look at a 1973 model with a 302 cubic inch V8 and Flowmaster dual exhaust ($14,965). A similarly equipped ’72 in blue with hood scoop was listed at $14,900.
7. 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
On the low end of the classic muscle car market, you can turn to 1970s Camaros to find the best value. The first-gen model didn’t debut until 1967, so with “only” about 700,000 original sales before 1970 the first edition is scarcer than Mustang. However, the Camaro sales explosion of the late 1970s (when it first outsold its Ford rival) leaves many late-decade badass models for today’s vintage car lover.
A 1974 model listed in California at the time of writing showcases the type of value you can find. For under $12,000, shoppers can get a Camaro with a beautiful exterior and rebuilt V8. However, the pictured Z28 from 1979 listed on Hemmings comes in even lower ($10,000).
8. 1969 Buick Riviera
Beginning in 1967, Buick started offering the 7.0-liter V8 in the Riviera. This delivered a peak 430 horsepower and made for a serious cruising machine. Being a Buick, it had more flair than the standard muscle cars of the era, but there is no doubting the power of a ’69 Riviera, especially the pictured model in gold with tan interior listed at $12,995 on Coyote Classics.
9. 1973 Ford Gran Torino
Gran Torino is one of the vintage Ford models without huge name recognition, even after the Clint Eastwood film of the same name. We found several models under $16,000 worth a look from vintage car buyers, including one with a black exterior for $8,995. Clearly, a model priced that low needs work under the hood, but the pictured model in red (also a ’73) runs on the big-block 400 and lists at $14,500.
10. 1975 Chevrolet El Camino
El Camino is another nameplate that seems to go into the shop cheap and come out pricey on the auction block. Vintage car shoppers don’t have to go through that rigmarole to bag an El Camino for the weekend. Take the pictured model from 1975 from a Texas owner ($11,950). It features the original parts and the stock 350 engine. A restored model in cherry red featuring a rebuilt big block 454 engine was listed at about the same price ($11,995).