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Six collector cars under $8,500

Posted by Craig Fitzgerald  August 16, 2011 11:35 AM

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(All photos: Hemmings)

A 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Coupe is expected to sell for at least $3.25 million during this weekend's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. But now, probably more than ever, is a great time to buy an affordable classic you can enjoy just as much as those multi-million dollar cars at the big auctions.

We sought out six cars under $8,500 within a day's drive of Boston &mdash easy enough for a New England enthusiast to get home without spending thousands in shipping.

Since the cost of restoration can far outweigh the initial purchase price, we tried to find cars that were in solid, driveable condition, rather than cheap restoration projects that could consume tens of thousands of dollars. We also tried to find a car from every decade of the postwar period up to the 1990s that would be unlikely to lose value in the coming years.

And finally, we tried to mix up the types of cars we featured, so that we represented vehicles that would appeal to a wide range of enthusiasts. But if you're only interested in trucks, for example, you could easily find one from every post-war decade for less than $8,500.

Here's what we came up with, from the classifieds section of

Before you buy

"Buy a vintage car you enjoy owning and driving, and if you decide to sell it years down the line, chances are good that you'll either break even or even get some modest return," said Dan Strohl, associate editor for Hemmings Motor News. "Only in rare cases do vintage cars skyrocket in value."

If you haven't bought a collector car before, it's a good idea to find an experienced appraiser who can give you a solid pre-purchase inspection, even on a car that's only worth a few thousand dollars. Hemmings "Services" section lists appraisers all over the country.

Service costs, however, can be ferociously expensive. A Ferrari 400 from the 1980s, for example, might cost less than a moderately equipped 2011 Toyota Camry, but $15,000 engine rebuilds loom in the future. Older American cars are typically affordable to maintain, and those with a large following — Mustangs, Camaros and Chevelles — have the support of a huge aftermarket that can even replace entire body structures from the pages of a catalog.

The cheapest thing you can buy for your collector car is good insurance. Companies like Hagerty and American Collectors Insurance provide excellent "agreed value" coverage at a fraction of the cost of traditional insurance. You can often insure cars like the ones we mention here with full coverage and protect them at a value mutually agreeable to you and the insurer for less than $200 a year.

1949 Buick Super / Alpine, N.J. / $8,000


Following World War II, American automakers essentially reproduced what they were building before the war. It wasn't until 1948 and 1949 that manufacturers rolled out new models, like this thoroughly modern Buick Super. This example is in good, solid shape, and would be a pleasure to drive to the local cruise night. Immediate postwar cars are getting tougher to find for less than $8,500, but sedans are typically priced right for the thrifty collector. A Buick Super Coupe in similar condition could cost three times the price of this sedan. (View the listing)

1959 Ford Thunderbird / Holtsville, N.Y. / $6,500


The original Ford Thunderbird from 1955 to 1957 was an instant classic, though prices aren't quite as high as you might expect. These 1957 to 1960 "Squarebirds" are from the second generation and typically sell in a price range attainable for any collector. This one looks straight and clean in the photos, and features a brand new leather interior (which can easily run into the thousands). Any Thunderbird from the late 1950s all the way up to the mid-1970s has the potential to be a collector car bargain. (View the listing)

1967 Ford F100 / Syracuse, N.Y. / $7,500


Vintage trucks are not only fun to own, but they're typically less expensive than cars, and are also a legitimate partner for the occasional summertime run to the lumber yard. This example is a 1967 F100, the entry level pickup from Ford in the 1960s. It's in Syracuse now, but it originally hailed from North Carolina, where the rust was mercifully kept at bay. With 91,000 miles on the odometer, a six-cylinder and a three-speed, this truck will run as long as you will. (View the listing)

1979 Hurst Olds / East Bridgewater / $7,800


In 1968, General Motors mandated that none of its intermediate cars could have more than 400 cubic inches in displacement. Working with Hurst to sell special edition cars "manufactured" by Hurst and sold through Olds dealers, Oldsmobile was able to do a run-around and ship intermediate sized cars with 455 cubic-inch engines. The relationship turned into more of a branding one in the 1970s. Hurst branding appeared on Cutlasses through the 1980s. This one has all the right paint stripes and emblems, along with the correct "His 'n' Hers" dual-gate shifter and Hurst-specific wheels. (View the listing)

1988 Cadillac Allante / Cape Cod / $7,495


The Allante was Cadillac's first attempt to restore itself into the premium luxury segment it had dominated for 80 years. It was designed and built in Italy by the coachbuilder Pininfarina and shipped 3,300 miles to Detroit — 56 at a time — in specially designed Boeing 747s for final assembly. It competed with the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, both of which cost $20,000 to $30,000 more. Today, you can find a solid, cared-for Allante well under our $8,500 cap, including this one for sale on Cape Cod with just 75,000 miles. Note that Allantes built in the final years of 1991 and 1992 have the added benefit of more contemporary styling and Cadillac's fantastic Northstar V-8 engine. (View the listing)

1991 Jaguar XJ6 Vanden Plas / Gladstone, N.J. / $5,900


Mention older Jaguars and most people run in the opposite direction. But the Jaguar "XJ40" (as it was known internally) was a radical departure from the ancient XJ6 Series III it replaced. Built between 1986 and 1994, these sedans were the product of a ₤200 million investment by Jaguar to modernize its production. They were subjected to millions of miles of testing before launch, and today, you can find XJ40 Jaguars running efficiently and reliably well past 150,000 miles. This 1991 is a two-owner car with just under 100,000 miles, and is the Vanden Plas model with unique leather upholstery, walnut inlays, and folding beverage trays in the rear. (View the listing)

Craig Fitzgerald is a former editor at Hemmings Sport & Exotic Car magazine. He can be reached at and at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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