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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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 recently acquired a German spec '79 630CS and find it to be the perfect porridge. It has the purity of design that Paul Bracq imagined, without the compromises that the US models suffered with-big bumpers and power sapping emission controls. It has a surprising amount of torque with the manual transmission. The parts prices are less much expensive than the post '82 models, but still spendy. Grouping this with the F-150 is like comparing Margot Robbie to Roseanne Barr.
I was 9 when my Uncle returned from Vietnam. He bought a brand new 69 Roadrunner not long after. After deciding it was too much car and he was likely to die in it he sold it and bought a brand new TR6. Deep Burgundy with tan interior if I recall. At that time, still being very young, I knew I would someday own a TR6.
I bought mine, a 1971, in 1980 for $3300. I garaged it in 1993 as I took a job in a city that had likely the worst conditions for streets I’ve ever been in and did not want to subject my car to that kind of abuse. It has been garaged ever since and is sitting on just over 75,000 miles on the odometer.
She’s Signal Red with black interior. Hoping to hear her throaty voice before fall as I am waiting for a Patton fuel injection/electronic ignition kit that I just ordered. I’ll have a bit of work ahead of me to dust off the cobwebs and get her road worthy but sometimes there is nothing better than doing something from a “Labor of love” standpoint.
Y’all can have ur BMW’s, Porsche’s, and any exotics as there isn’t a car in the world I’d trade my TR6 for. Well maybe an original Shelby Cobra two seater.
Absolutely not a truck guy, and old beemers frighten me at the service dept, I’ve always loved the TR6, my buddy had one back in the 70s, and it was a fun car, quick, handled well, ride was sub par, but that was part of the experience, till he spun it into a bank, yes a Bank window, took out the low wall, twisted the Triumph
My all time favorite British car is the TR-6. I had a Spitfire for a number of years and it was a pretty good car, everything considered. The TR-6 would even be better. People complain about the Lucas electronics and reliability problems with electrics. Sure, you may have trouble with light switches and the horn but the engine has a carb, a distributor and a coil. That's it. No fool injection, no ECU, virtually no emissions with the 70's versions. The pre-1972 models have regular steel bumpers too. Parts are cheap, plenty of enthusiast interest and lots of aftermarket upgrades available. What's not to like?
I was fortunate to work at a sports car dealer back in the early 70's that sold both new Triumphs and Datsuns. I got to drive brand new TR6's and 240Z's quite often, and loved both. They had similar power, ride, and handling: Quick, comfortable yet firm ride, and cornered great. I take exception to the idea that the TR6 was so outclassed by the 'Z. Certainly 'bouncy' was not part of the experience (note that the cars were new, not riding on 50 year old fatigued or rebuilt components). Datsun apparently considered the Triumphs a direct competitor, as they soon demanded that we stop selling Triumph under the same roof. We had to start a separate dealership down the street and split the two brands.
I believe they missed the best bang for your buck under $15K. I don’t think you can find a car that looks better and performs better than the Porsche 944 S2 Cabriolet. It’s the best value collector car in my opinion. Most of them sell for under $15K.
The 633CSi is a pretty coupe, classic design and pricey - my 1977 Seville brand new was stickered a little over $14,000, and I kept it for 132,000 miles and 11 years when things started breaking, so off it went to the dealer auction and probably the recycler not long afterwards.
I had a Triumph Spitfire in the 1980s, and my uncle had a TR6 and a Spitfire. I can't speak for other owners, but we never had any trouble out of our cars. Of course, we also took care of them and didn't treat them the way people treat a KIA or Hyundai of today. I also had a '71 MG Midget. I put a lot of miles on these cars as daily drivers and never had any serious or expensive problems. From what I remember, the worst problems I had to fix were changing out the turn signal switch on the Spitfire and replacing the starter and alternator on the MG. Not bad for about 10 years of fun driving.
I think that many "car enthusiasts" simply like to jump on the stereotypical bandwagon and run these cars down.
I've owned a couple British motorcycles and they lived up to all the jokes about Lucas, and leaking oil and always having a set of wrenches near at hand. But they are aesthetically pleasing and fun to drive. I've owned a few BMWs, cars and bikes. They often amazed me at how logically they were set up to work on. Some parts were expensive, many were not. Brake jobs were cheap. Great engines and fun to drive.
I've only owned one American car. A 73 Chevy Nova. Truly a piece of junk. My dad owned many as well. They all were not much fun and were unreliable. But they were big.
I can't imagine buying a pickup for fun. I had a couple. Toyota, reliable as hell. A couple Fords, unreliable as hell. None was fun.
Overall I'd take the BMW. Good looks and fun to drive. Easy to work on. (old ones, not new ones)