Bargain Classics to Buy Today - updated July 2019
Here are some hot tips for classics which are likely to rise in value as people work out how good they are and how little they cost today And cars which are just plain good value classics.
Chevrolet Corvette C4
Here's a new addition. The prices of these cars have dropped consistently over the past few years. Most are left hand drive, which is actually fine. They have strong V8 engines and perform well. They are pretty straightforward mechanically, and parts availability is good. There are several Corvette specialists in Australia.
For the cost of an MGB or less, you can get America's great sport's car. Air conditioned, power steering, mostly automatic, power windows, etc. Convertibles are only commanding a little more than a Coupe. There are some ropey examples or customised cars around which are worth less than decent, standard cars. The downturn in the economy has hot American cars hard. The sorts of toys FIFO workers bought hit the market when their finances head south, and American cars were prime among such toys.
They're pretty special. You don't see a Corvette every day. Maybe they weren't on your radar, but at such low prices today, may be worth thinking about.
Look out for: Customised cars with ghastly body kits, incorrect wheels and 'improved' interiors. These cars will always be worth less than a standard car. If a car has been converted to right hand drive, get an expert to check how well it's been done.
Nissan 300ZX Z32
After the original 240Z Nissan gradually lost the point of its sporty model, the Z becoming more of a luxury car with sporty looks, which suited then US market well and sales remained strong. Enthusiasts lost their enthusiasm though... Until the 300ZX of 1990 (until 2000). Once again, Nissan offered a car with proper performance (in the Turbo version), with decent on-road capabilities and up to the minute styling.
Inside, none of the luxury was given-up. Available with 2 seater or 2+2 bodywork, fixed or open roof, manual or auto, turbo or naturally aspirated, it's not hard to figure out that the sportiest version is the one to get. A twin-turbo 300ZX has 300bhp (224kW) and is good for 250km/h and 0-100 in a fraction over 5 seconds - very respectable.
Investors looking for a decent return as well as a decent drive in Australia should aim for an Australian delivered car. Good examples are currently too cheap...
Look out for: There are plenty of JDM imports and while they can be cheap, they're not what the market will seek as the collector's piece in years to come. And don't go near customised examples. A body kit, modified engine, big wheels, etc completely detract from investment potential.
Fiat 124 Spider
Classic Pininfarina styling (one of Tom Tjaarda's fine efforts), great mechanical spec and cheap parts supply make a great formula. But why are they so cheap? $10,000-18,000 seems to cover many which come on the market here. That's just too cheap. Apart from pretty styling, they've got a lovely twin-cam engine, 5-speed box and disc brakes all round. And they're convertible. The handling is good, performance fine and there's excellent parts availability robust mechanicals the same as the popular 124 Sport coupe.
OK, the Fiat name isn't as exotic as some and they were only built left-hand drive. But they're a much better car than an MGB. For the price of a Yaris, you could have a cheap to run classic sports car.
Look out for: Rough conversions to right hand drive. Worn and sun-damaged interiors. Most cars here come from the US, mainly from dry states, so rust isn't much more of a problem than most other cars.
From the era when Mercedes-Benz cars were bullet-proof The elegant 2-door version of the zillion-selling W124 series was only available in Australia with the biggest 3-litre 6-cylinder engine. All are well equipped too. They're getting old now and while almost all of these coupes were cosseted when new, they're getting long in the tooth today and prices keep on falling. You can get a tidy Australian compliance car today for under $5000. Good examples still command more, and the better example you can get the more valuable it will become. As an investment, you'd have to consider these a very long term investment and only for the best cars. Whichever way, these pillarless coupes offer a lot of car for the money.
Look out for: Super high mileage examples. They can do it, but eventually everything wears out. Get a Mercedes-Benz specialist to check the transmission they were clunky when new, so you may not be able to tell whether it's actually worn out. 24-valve heads have been known to be troublesome. Don't bother with a private import you won't really be saving much.
If an iconic sports car from the late 1940s appeals to you, then at the budget end of the scale, an MG TC is hard to go past. For much the same kind of money as you pay for a good MGB or MGA, the very vintage TC makes a compelling case for itself.
They were made in big numbers (about 10,000) between 1945 and 1949, much of the car carried over from pre-war models. The OHV 1250cc engine with twin carbies gives modest performance, but in open, quite minimal bodywork it seems quite fast. In their day they were a nimble little car. They're very attractive certainly more than the following models which were broadly similar looking (TD and TF).
Just $25,000 buys a decent example. Or a Camry that's a couple of years old All TCs have been restored at least once by now. They're simple in all respects and parts availability and club support is very strong. A cheap car to own and run.
If you can stand a jouncy ride, synchro on top gears only, hefty steering and bugs in your teeth, the TC may just be the car for you.
Look out for: Shoddy restorations and cars made to look good for sale. Wood rot in the body frame can be an issue. Some cars are made up from parts from several vehicles, so if originality is important, get an MG TC expert to look over a car for you.
Renault Floride and Caravelle
These very pretty rear-engined, 2-door Renaults are based on the running gear of contemporary sedans Dauphine and R8. There's nothing wrong with that it's no different to the Karmann Ghia and VW Beetle story. It does mean they're quite slow,,,
Removable hardtops plus soft-tops are an added attraction. Almost all have been restored by now, to varying standards of course. There's a loyal following for these cars and often far more than their value has been spent on restoration which can be good for you.
They were sold from 1959-1968, in reasonable numbers in Australia. Mechanical components aren't hard to find as they were shared with common Renaults of the era. Bodywork costs as much to restore as any car. That said, you're much better off to buy one someone else already spent money and time restoring, for less than their cost (as with any car).
The car illustrated here belonged to Princess Grace of Monaco. Later Caravelle identifiable by squarer hardtop and no side vents, plus benefits from a bigger engine.
Look out for: Rust it can be a killer. Cars which have been modified they often get later Renault running gear fitted, so be sure what you're looking at is what you want. A shabby car will not make a good investment. It's a Sunday cruiser though don't be fooled into thinking it's a performance sports car.
Mazda RX7 Series 1
When the first RX7 came out, it was a stunner. Really quick, brilliant handling and a great package. It immediately took up where the Datsun 260Z had left off when it gained weight and lost sportiness becoming the 280ZX. The RX7 was the enthusiasts car and perfectly capable of being used every day in traffic. Aussie lapped them up, with good reason.
By today's standards they're no so fast and the handling is a bit agricultural. Almost all early RX7s have suffered the ignominy of being modified. Later turbo engines are the most common change. Different wheels, tacky steering wheels, loud exhausts and louder sound systems. All the boy racer stuff.
The real challenge is to find an unmolested, original and correct Series 1. Not a Series 2 or 3 which look almost the same... If you're really lucky, and quick, you might get one for $10,000... Collectability status - as high as it gets.
Look out for: Rust can affect these. Interior trim isn't the hardiest either. Definitely don't get a modified car - mechanically or cosmetically modified. While owners have spent thousands 'upgrading' their RX7s, they in fact devalue the cars. A thrashed or worn out car isn't worth the cost of repairing.
UPDATE - Since this was first published, people have woken up to early RX7s. Today $10k gets you a rough but complete car. To get a good, original car you have to pay twice as much. And the best cars will keep going up.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Here's one of the all-time great classic sports cars. They have a wonderful twin-cam engine, 5-speed gearbox, 4 disc brakes, beautiful Pininfarina styling Sound like the Fiat Spider? Similar story, except there are plenty of Australian delivered RHD cars out there. Also way less than $20,000 seems to be the median price. Too low!
The early round-tailed cars are more appreciated and their prices reflect that. I'm talking about the square-tailed 1750 and 2000 models. These are gorgeous sports cars, with great pedigrees. Most have been subjected to refurbishment by loving owners who won't get back their investment. I'd have one in my garage and that's a big statement!
Look out for: Badly 'restored' cars. Later type American models which have been converted from LHD check the quality of the conversion and usually these are less desirable versions with plastic bumpers and spoilers. Check carefully if a car has the Spica fuel injection it can be difficult and very expensive to repair. Upholstery material wasn't the best quality and suffers in the sun. Small trim parts expensive to replace.
UPDATE - Prices have finally started to rise on Spiders. While the 105 Coupes are routinely $50K-minumum cars today, the Spiders still lag behind, but the days of the $20,000 example have passed us by.
The Mondial has become the ugly duckling of the Ferrari marque. Not that long ago everyone's pet Ferrari hate was the 308GT4, the Mondial's predecessor. Suddenlly, values of these doubled, yet Mondial prices have remained in the doldrums.
Okay, Mondial coupe styling is pretty bland. But the interior design is great, in a blocky kind of way. It has the same quad-cam V8 engine and great mechanicals as its more popular sisters and even has small back seats. Performance is respectable, moreso in the later versions. An early Mondial 8, for example, can't show up a modern hot hatch... They handle, brake and do all the other Ferrari things well. Still built just as well (= averagely) and still the same foibles as other V8 Ferraris.
When all other Ferraris seem to be over $100,000, Mondials are still available for less than half that price. Convertibles and later 3.2 cars command higher prices, but you still won't pay $100K for the last Convertible sold in Australia.
Look out for: Poorly maintained examples owned by people who haven't been able to afford to run a Ferrari. Get a proper Ferrari specialist to check the car out before you buy (no matter how keen someone who isn't a specialist is about checking over a car). All parts are expensive for these cars. Every seller will tell you theirs is the best. Check service history thoroughly. Beware cars which have been converted from left hand drive.
Mercedes-Benz 500SL R129
From the era of high quality Mercedes-Benz models, their range topping SL featured all they had. Early in the electronics era, so ABS, etc, plus features like pop-up roll-over bars. The 500 in particular is the model to get and by far the most common in Australia. Six and 12-cylinder versions also were imported, but best avoided as investments. That said, there are certain experts who really rate the 6-cylinder SLs. Private imports of various models have come in too. The updated SL500 brought some good changes.
The V8 engine in the 500SL provided huge performance, with ease. You can take on Porsches in one of these. All are well equipped in all respects, including hardtop and soft top.
Just $25,000 buys a really good Australia-delivered car. Plenty go for less too. Great value. As the rough ones disappear over the next couple of decades, good 500SLs will become sought after.
Look out for: Private imports avoid them. Locally delivered cars are cheap enough. Make sure you get a car with service history. Definitely get a Mercedes-Benz specialist to check the car out for you some systems can be very expensive to replace. V12 cars a potential nightmare...
BMW 2002 - Too late...
Sweet things these early BMWs... A cracker of a car with taught handling and decent 2-litre engines. Good build quality has meant a decent survival rate. Top of the line Tii, with fuel injection has 130bhp. Generally they're not luxuriously appointed no power steering, power windows, etc - best you can hope for is a sunroof and alloy wheels.
Aim for highest spec you can find Ti or Tii. Don't bother with small-engined models. Or automatics. Highly restored examples easily fetch $20,000, but most good cars are still two thirds of that. Great buying for a modern classic. Parts availability is pretty good.
Look out for: Rust is not unknown in these little Bimmers. Trim parts inside and out are getting hard to find now. Don't bother buying a worn out car and trying to restore it. You'll spend much more than the value of the car doing a resto on one. Buy a car someone else has spent too much on
UPDATE - Too late if you didn't grab one already... Since this was first published, 2002 prices have doubled. Sometimes asking prices are unrealistically stratospheric, but a nice Ti or Tii is worth twice what it was just two years ago.