No matter how you look at it, the car hobby isn’t a cheap one. There’s buying a car, then there’s registration, insurance, fuel, and storage to consider. And that’s before you even get to parts and maintenance. Luckily, though, there are tons of entry-level vehicles out there that offer the fun and satisfaction of collector car ownership.
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Seriously? Two European maintenance nightmares and a so-so performance pickemup? That's it? Where is the usual gaggle of four door sedans and station wagons you guys usually feature?
As a sign of how far we have come the Lightning's SVT modded 260 HP 351W is matched by the subsequent generation's bone stock 5.4 Triton. That said a 351W in a square body is a lot easier to work on. The again a 2014 Camry V6 has a quicker 1/4 mile than an 87 Mustang GT.
Personally my favorite of the 3 is the BMW shark nose. I know it's a money pit but they are iconic cars and in the PNW they are rust free. F-150 lightnings are cool trucks but I already have a bright red 260HP pickup 🙂
I was driving home (albeit a little too fast) during a raging thunderstorm and a tree fell literally 30 feet in front of me. My 1985, 5 spd, 635 CSI was totaled. I loved that car. The reason I owned it was because of the 1985 535i, 5 spd, that I will forever regret selling.
BMWs of that era were much more reliable than the plastic stuff they're selling today. If you are handy and do most of your own work, they are actually reasonably inexpensive to own and operate. As you're working on one, you can't help but be impressed with the engineering and quality. I've encountered significantly more frustration and busted knuckles working on old Fords than I ever did on my old BMWs.
At one time the term "Classic" referred to a high end pre WWII car like a Packard or Duesenberg. In England it referred to high end sports cars of the post war years like Aston Martin or Ferrari. As time goes by it continues to evolve - now it refers to that rarest and most beautiful of all vehicles ever made - a 1990s pickup truck.
Somewhat surprised with the positive comments about the Lightning. Used to drive Fords; 85 Bronco 2 5 speed, 86 Mustang GT 5 speed, 89 Mustang GT 5 speed but got "cured" with a '91 Exploder. Great looking SUV, but what a POS!
AC was pathetic for the PHX heat 50/50 if AC was any improvement to 4 windows down (more on that later).
Transmission went at 65K miles. Dealer said he was surprised it lasted that long. Then I remembered that when I was shopping for early 80s Bronco 2, all of the automatic trucks advertised rebuilt transmissions!. Took it to a specialty shop that made a living rebuilding them. He said the Ford 4 sp autos all cooked themselves too death and Ford never addressed the problem since they failed out of warranty. Good for him but not for anyone that owned one.
Rear power window cable broke dropping the window to wide open position. Window mechanism was installed before the inner and outer door halves were welded together so you couldn't replace it without cutting away part of the inner door shell. Ended up screwing a wooden block to the inner door panel to permanently hold the window up.
But the one issue that sent me packing was the oil pressure sending unit. I had the Eddie Baur edition with full gauges at the same time I owned the 89 GT. Oil pressure on the GT would read normal cold, but a little lower than I liked after the car warmed up. I temporally plumbed in a mechanical gauge and verified the pressure was fine, but the sensor, a bulky resistance type device was not accurate warm. Looking at the Exploder, I saw a nice solid state looking device with the same pipe threads as the Mustang and the same single post electrical connection. Aha, an easy fix for the old Mustang so I temporarily swapped in the Exploder unit for a quick test before heading to the dealer to buy one. Well low and behold start the engine, and the pressure comes right up to 3/4 on the gauge and never moves! Ford had installed a low oil pressure switch in the Eddie Baur and just wired it up to an analog gauge!
No more Fords for me!
The Porsche 986 Boxster and Boxster S with manual transmission should be on the list. As long as it has been cared for and the IMS has been replaced (likely done long ago with a clutch replacement), they are great cars. I drive my 2002 Boxster S 6-speed regularly.
No, thank you. The TR6 is a rust nightmare. The 93-95 Lightning is hen's teeth rare and asking price is well above your $15k for sub-100,000 mile examples. As for the BMW 6, I'm not in love with it. Those a big cars for it's time (3200lbs). It's a really good looking 5 series but 5's don't appeal to me. It's my opinion that during each of these car's era there were a lot better cars around at a far lower selling price that driven into obscurity. IMO, the only reason your list exists is because they were over priced.
For me, sticking with just these 3 examples, I would pick the TR6. While the Ford and BMW are cool and may get a few thumbs-up from those in the know, the Triumph would probably generate more smiles from the general public.
The smiles and waves from complete strangers is just one of the perks with driving a classic.
I like the 6 series, always seemed cool to me. Straight 6 and good handling, beemer parts may be cheaper than Porsche or Mercedes parts, but not by enough. Lightening is cool but 260hp? Not really classic enough and I have that much in the ranger, and with 4wd and stick shift so I can use it to fetch and tow the classics. TR6 seems the only real classic to me here. I think with the 6 they were better cars and more durable than both the ones that came before and after. Not a bad choice. Like my dad's S2000 tho, surprising tight inside. Nice to have enough room for my elbows if needed. I prefer Italian. Two obvious candidates are the Fiat 124. The sedan is very versatile, has a classic look, and a nicely restored example can be found in this price range. Parts are cheap and plentiful. Lada parts can sub for body panels and spider bits in running gear. It has plenty of room to work around the OHV in the engine bay. Rear wheel drive and wishbones up front for that nice handling you're used to. Decent enough power and mileage to get by in modern traffic and be really fun on the backroads. Lots of room inside for people, things and all your activities with still some nice wood on the dash and classic switchgear. Perfect combination.
If a tintop doesn't fit your classic definition and you need a convertible sports car, the obvious choice is the Fiat 124 Spider. Careful shopping should still net you a very nice #3 car. It has all the benefits of the sedan except rear doors, tin top, larger trunk and more usable back seat. It sacrifices some of the generous engine bay room but adds the revvy twin cam head on the robust 4cyl. block. Also a wealth of carbs or FI, sizes from 1.4 to 2L and performance parts that can improve that along with a 5th gear to take advantage on the highway. Suspension is similar but a little sportier, as are the front seats, sexy exterior and the quickest, easiest to use convertible top that I know of. With its 4 wheel disc brakes and all syncromesh trans, its the closest to having a modern car with classic shape and character. A perfect choice.
Almost enough to make me wish they were worse so they would stop following me home.
Owned a TR4 in high school (I graduated in 1971). Sold it to go to college (freshmen weren't allowed cars). Sophomore year bought a used TR250. What a car! Old style 4 series body with a 6 cylinder engine. Alas, the Michigan winter salt turned the frame to swiss cheese in two years. Bought a used TR4a IRS in Florida and drove it back to Michigan, burning a case of oil over 1100 miles. Pulled the six out of the 250 (using a come-a-long hung from an oak tree in the back yard of our student rental house), had a mobile welder cut the engine mounts out of the 250 and weld them into the 4a, and dropped in the six. My homemade TR250. Great memories.
I have done ground up restorations of both TR6 and MGB. Save your money and have much more fun with the MGB. Get an early one, go through everything, put in an electric fan and petronix ignition and have a ball. The MG is light years better than the TR6 in terms of maintenance. Simple, much easier to work on and simply better engineered. The TR will drive you nuts with overly complex systems that were obviously grafted onto an archaic frame/body design. Much of the early MGB gear was taken from the MGA, but the ride is better and the engine has more than enough umph. The seats are more comfortable than the TR...just make sure you get an overdrive transmission. For comparison, the 1965 MGB I restored (and would never part with) puts out around 95 horsepower and weighs about 1950lbs. The TR6 I am finishing weighs somewhere around 2650lbs and puts out 105 horse or so. Just do the math. I do not expect to miss the TR, but the MG has been from NY to California, NY to Florida, and NY to PEI with not a single issue. As reliable as an anvil.
A truck and two imports? For entry-level classics, nothing beats Mustang. A 1966 coupe in very good shape easily fits into this price range. Maybe even a 6-cylinder convert. Easy to fix, get parts. And memories come built in...everyone knows someone who owned a Mustang.
So many vehicles that could be on this list, but a nice trio with variety here. Although I'm partial to American muscle, the BMW would be my choice from this list. A former neighbor worked at a repair shop specializing in German brands, and a 535i he briefly had was incredibly impressive. Maintenance is super important with any vehicle, so find one you like with detailed records and you'll be happy.
Perhaps one factor in these cars is how handy you are. The Ford is something almost anybody who has ever wrenched an American car can work on, but it is pretty big so you may need help. The Triumph, with the smaller-everything mechanicals and BMC engine, can be completely rebuilt singlehandedly, and the BMW can be downright affordable if you wrench it yourself and source parts wisely. I’ve owned all 3 but my current collection is mostly (14) BMWs, so I’m a little biased.
The Rolls Silver Shadows of the late 60's to the early 80's are also pretty and cheap.............to buy! To own a "Roller" in the OLD days cost about $10,000 a year to maintain and repair... The old Brit's and German cars are fussy and expensive to operate... gracias pero NO!!!
I had a 74 Triumph Spitfire, a 74 Midget, a 62 MGA MkII, a 67 TR4a IRS and a 74 TR6. I trained on the Spit, autocrossed the Midget, restored the MGA but had tons o fun driving the TR6. Plenty of power and I really liked the lines when I put the factory hardtop on it. Once you had the workshop manual, all of them were fairly easy to keep up, even doing master cylinder changes, water pump replacements and valve timings. The exploded parts diagrams were far superior to those available for the 81 Corvette that I added. So the car I kept was the 69 XK-E and I traded the 81 in on a new C7. Life's a bit simpler now.
Having been an owner of a Triumph Spitfire (or maybe the car owned me?) I would not go down that slippery slope again. Likewise with the BMW. "Bust My Wallet" is the right way to look at it for sure. I am not sure about the truck thing. I'm not a Ford fan. I wonder as did someone else, where the Porsche 924 or 944 went? Obvious by their absence I think?
Perhaps not YET a classic, the Jaguar XK8/XKR... $15K buys an awful lot with this car and later versions 2003 - 2006 had many of the issues worked out - including a stronger and more reliable 4.2L V8.
When shopping for my "toy", the TR was for sure on my list. I listened to my brothers advice and keeping life simple. I bought a 91 rust free Miata, great car
I thought of 2 vehicles when I saw the headline, a hot rod pickup, and Porsche 928. I'd love a 928, but the cost of upkeep... whew! But, to me, one of the best looking cars of all time.
If you can get a Lightning for 15K it likely has 100K miles on it or more. I just sold a solid #2 with 48K miles at the start of covid to a dealer for $20K, he flipped it to another dealer for $22K and that dealer was asking $25K for it.
I'd like two of the three: Lightning and TR6. There are other BMW's I would rather have than this one (maybe a first-series Z4?), even if I had to save a little more money first.