Car Corner
Affordable Future Classics

December 1, 2014
By Scott Lewis


I am wrestling with this column. I would love for this to be a one stop shopping place to go before buying a car destined to be a "classic." Obviously, I am going by the old time thinking that any car 25 years old or older are classics.

But it is more than just age. A 1990 Ford Crown Vic will officially be a classic next month. That is not the point of this column.

I want cars listed here that will be interesting classics, when they reach the ripe old age of 25. And ripe is the word, in that they will come into their own at that time, like a fine bottle of wine or scotch.

However, the cars listed here should also be interesting cars now, before they are classics. I firmly believe cars are meant to be driven. This should be a collection of cars that you can drive as they reach classic status, and enjoy them.

This annually recurring column is not about finding investment cars, though I do expect quite a few cars on this list will eventually appreciate in value. The trick is when do they bottom out.

Most important though... is these are cars are affordable now. So you can buy them and enjoy them now. And they should still be enjoyable when they reach that definitive 25 year mark, and become a true classic.

In reality, this list should grow and grow as I spend time discovering cars that should be on this list. However, once a car reaches the age of a classic, it has to go. "Future" is in the title. Toward that end... I am going to stop listing cars that are over 20 years old. I want there to be a period of enjoying the car before it becomes a classic, and possibly starts increasing in value. Toward that end, some cars will drop off this list if they start going up in value too soon, and loose their "Affordable" status.

So... for me... I want this to be my "go to" place to find an interesting car that is affordable (available for under $20K) and will make a great car to take to Cars & Coffee events, and cars shows in the future. These would not be considered daily drivers (though most can do just that easily). I see these as 2nd or even 3rd cars. Cars that could help jump start a collection, or add to one.

One last thing... it would be easy to just list Corvettes and Porsches on this list, among others like that. The cars below should be a little more different than a just another 911 or Boxster.

What's New This Year?

2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird - Yea, these cars are fluff pieces. However, once they became affordable they also became affordable future classics. I don't know why I haven't had these on my list before. You can find these all day long under $20K. Really nice, low mileage ones are more than that. But these are parts bin cars that should be very reliable with reasonable mileage. So find an affordable one and hold on to it. It seems like low mileage examples may already be climbing in price, so now is the time to shop smart and find the best compromise between mileage and price.

Examples: On the day I wrote the paragraph above I found a 2002 Teal (with the mandatory -- for me -- two tone teal/black interior) with 71K miles for $12,990 on AutoTrader. Done and done! Or a 28K miles Teal car for $14,995. The best compromise between price and mileage I could find was a 2002 with 15K miles for $16,966. Less mileage was always more, sometimes a lot more.

2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR - Yea... a pickup. Sort of. If the cap does not come off... is it really a pickup? These are holding their value surprisingly well. But there are affordable ones out there. These have Chevrolet's near bulletproof LS engine, so mileage should not be much of a concern. Obviously collectability would call for low mileage. But this column is about driving a cool "affordable" classic. So just stay under 100K miles and enjoy it. Toward driving... try to stick with the 05-06 as they had the 6.0 Liter engine with almost 100 more horsepower.

Examples: Again, on the day I wrote the paragraph above the best mileage/price compromise I saw on AutoTrader was a 2004 with under 33K miles for $17K. Not bad. Sticking with the horsepower theme... the best I saw was a 2005 with 60K miles for $20K. Still not bad.

Previous Cars

Here is a quick recap of the cars from last year:

1990-1996 Nissan 300ZX - These are just stepping into being classics, so will likely be removed next year. Yikes! I still like them and if you can find one that has not been modified they should be reasonably reliable.

Examples: I found a really nice 1990 300ZX (non-turbo) with only 45K miles for $10,500. Unfortunately there were only three pictures, and not good ones. It did leave an impression. The lowest mileage car I saw (under $20K) was a very nice red 1992 non-turbo with 32k miles for $12,950. Lots of pictures and it looked amazing. And it was also a non-T-Top car (my preference). Looking for a Turbo car I saw a 93 with 73k miles for $12,450. But it had an automatic (Yuck!). I saw a very nice, original 94 Turbo with 40k miles for $18K. It looked impressive.

Toyota Supra/Mazda RX7 - Only the latest generation of these are NOT classics already. I like the Nissan 300ZX better, or the older generations of both of these... which are already classics. So these will be off the list next year.

1999-2004 Mustang SVT Cobra - Buy them while they are still affordable. I suspect these are going to start going up in value real soon. Of course, the 03-04 versions are the best with the supercharged engines.

Examples: There are tons of convertibles of these. I think I would rather get a coupe. On the day I looked the best mileage/price I liked was a 2003 with 66K miles for $16K. Giving up the supercharger, I saw a 99 Cobra Mustang with 26k miles for $14k.

2012-2013 Boss 302 Mustang - Obviously this is a wait. These are still depreciating. So wait a few more years and then buy one.

1993-1996 Camaro Z-28 - Buy one with as little mileage as you can afford. I suspect they have already bottomed out. Low mileage ones have starting going up already. Not a lot, these will be affordable for a while, but you want to get them at the lowest point. which I suspect for low mileage examples is now.

Examples: I go in and out of tracking these. I really want one. So... on this one day I am writing this (and the Mustang Cobra above it) the best mileage/price was a red 95 with 67k miles for $5k. It had T-Tops, which I hate. My actual favorite for the day was a 96 Camaro Z28 with the SS package. It had 37k miles and an asking price of $13k. Since these were limited in production it could eventually be worth something. Trying to match the 93 I had... I also saw a 93 without the t-tops, in red (YES!), with the regular two tone gray interior and 70K miles... for $7,900. Bonus... it was a 6 speed manual, bettering the one I had with an automatic. If I had the cash I would buy this one today.

2010-2014 Camaro SS 1/LE - This was tweaked. Since we had a special edition Mustang (Boss 302), I decided the Camaro needed a special edition. Yet it still had to fit the "affordable" part. These will be only slightly more than a regular Camaro SS, and in 20 years they will be hot. And you can have a ton of fun with them now, especially if you like taking your car to the track.

2001-2006 BMW M3 - I firmly believe these will go down as collectible for being the last of the naturally aspirated, inline 6 cylinder M cars. They are trickling down in price, but they are so good they may start inching upward sooner rather than later. Don't wait too much longer before buying one.

Examples: The lowest mileage I found (under $20K) was a 2001 convertible with 39K miles for $17,800. Not bad at all.

Miata - I believe any very low mileage Miata will be collectible. The very first ones just turned into classics (1990 --> 2015 = 25 years old). I have seen 1st gen cars with under 30K miles for under $10K. That's pretty sweet if you want a low mileage, affordable classic. Or get a slightly newer car and enjoy driving it as it ages.

Examples: For low mileage... I found a 14k original miles 1990 for $12,900. That's pretty close to the original price... and technically next month it will be a classic. If you want to save money... there is plenty to be saved... my favorite on the one day I looked was a 1990 with 56K miles for $6,200. This would be a fun little weekend car.

2004 & 2008 Volkswagen Golf R32 - Still completely relevant. The 2004 models are going down in value so slowly, they may never get significantly more affordable than they are now. I suspect these will only drop $2K-$4k more before they start going up. Buy now and enjoy them before it is too late.

Examples: For 2004I could not find an iconic blue one on the day I searched. Baring that... a nice red 2004 R32 with 80K miles for $14k was a nice choice. Moving onto the 2008 version... I found a blue one with 50K miles for $18,500. There were plenty to choose from with prices going down for more mileage and up for less mileage. There should be no trouble sussing out a nice car with under 100K miles and under $20K. Just wait for the right car.

2004-2008 Crossfire SRT-6 - Buy them if you like them. They will go down in price only if their cost of ownership starts getting high, which is likely as these are a 1st Gen SLK AMG under the skin. So if you want them affordable, find a decent mileage one now, and hope maintenance costs don't hurt you.

Examples: I really like the blue color this car came in, probably to my detriment. I did find a nice 2005 SRT-6 with 36k miles for $14,900. Not bad at all.

2002-2006 Mini Cooper - I had two of these. As each new generation gets "less MINI" I think these will be more collectable in the long run. They are still going down. If you buy one get it with as little miles on it as possible. They are expensive to repair, and once they go over 100K miles, you can expect repairs. I had two... and still want another one.

Examples: Having put a lot of money into repairs on one of these... I only searched for cars with under 60k miles. And then I thought... why not look at the John Cooper Works version. Bingo! I saw a 2006 JCW convertible with 43K miles for $14,820. Tempting. I also saw a 2006 coupe with 50k miles for $13,500. Skipping the JCW, I lowered my search mileage to 45k and under. I bounced around and liked a 2006 Charcoal Gray convertible with 42K miles for $12,999. It looked almost identical to my 06 convertible.

1990-2005 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 - This is what I mean by not putting ordinary Corvettes on the list. The ZR-1 was special. These are already starting to go up in values. Not fast, and only for super low mileage ones. But that is exactly how it starts. Once the low mileage cars go up, it elevates the rest because that is where more buyers gravitate towards. Buy now!

Examples: To stay under $20K you can't get super low mileage. I saw some with under 1k miles, but the prices were outrageous. So, staying affordable I really liked one car. It was a 91 ZR-1 coupe with 39k miles for $14,992. Perfect in my opinion.

Off the List

1982-1991 Porsche 944 - Sorry... already a classic. I like these cars, but these actually could cost more to own that to buy. That goes against being affordable. I did see a really nice 86 with only 29k original miles for $13,700. I could see owning this car. I saw a very sweet looking Azurite Blue 87 944 Turbo for $13,900, but it had 90K miles. It looks super clean with lots of pictures, and it seemed stock. So maybe do the proper maintenance this car requires at that mileage and then enjoy it.

1987-1995 Porsche 928 - These are already classics, or they are too close. Also, like the 944, these will likely be more expensive to own that to buy. So buy with care.

1991 GMC Cyclone - Close enough to lose the "future" part of this list.


If you are looking for an interesting car to play around with and a budget of $20K... go shopping. Your list is here, just pick what you like best. In a couple of years I will do just that.