Home Cars 20 Best Modern Classics That Won’t Break the Bank

20 Best Modern Classics That Won’t Break the Bank

Vukasin Herbez June 26, 2018

You probably know that those thoroughbred classic cars are extremely expensive pieces of automotive history, going way beyond the reach of an average enthusiast. The prices of well-known luxury coupes and sports cars are approaching the prices of big houses in rich neighborhoods, which is absurd. So, what to do if you are looking for a classic car but you’re on a tight budget?

The solution is simple. Just turn your attention to more modern cars, like those models from the late ’70s, ’80s or even the ’90s. Some are still inexpensive but have the classic charm and potential to become precious future collectibles. The models from the ’50s or ’60s you may lust after are too slow and uncomfortable. But with the more modern cars, you will not have that problem. Modern classics have decent suspensions, comfy seats and working air conditioning systems.

That not only makes them a joy to drive, but you can use them daily. So, here is a list of 20 interesting modern classic cars you can buy inexpensively. All the vehicles on this list cost between $10,000 and $20,000 for low mileage perfect models with a full-service history. For less than the price of a new subcompact car, you can enjoy the sports car you have always promised yourself.

1. Alfa Romeo GTV6

The Tipo 116 was the coupe version of the Alfetta, which they introduced in the late ’70s. This car had advanced construction and suspensions and featured several interesting details. It had a transaxle gearbox that vastly improved the weight distribution and; thus, the handling. And it had a De Dion-type rear axle that helped with cornering and driving dynamics.

With a 2.5-liter V6 engine in the front, the GTV6 delivered 160 to 170 HP. That was a vivid performance by the standards of the day. Even today, the GTV6 is famous for its perfect driving dynamics, solid acceleration times and a fantastic soundtrack from the high-revving V6. Interestingly, they sold this car in the U.S.

They even sold it with an optional turbo kit by Callaway performance that was good for a whopping 233 HP. The prices are affordable, and this could be a perfect starter classic if you are into Italian sports cars. Since the earlier Tipo 105 coupe had experienced a spike in values, you can expect the same thing will happen with this model. So, pick up one now while they are still inexpensive and easy to find.

2. Nissan 300 ZX

One of the best cars in a long line of Z-named Nissan sports coupes was the 300 ZX Nissan introduced in 1990 and discontinued in 1996. Car enthusiasts respect this model since the 300 ZX was a proper sports coupe with the technology and performance to rival much more expensive, exclusive cars. The twin-turbo V6 engine pumped out 300 HP. This ZX could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds and top 150 mph.

Those results are still good today. Even though the maintenance costs can be a little higher than the competitors, the Nissan 300 ZX is still a great choice. Not only is this car fast, but it also has decent comfort and equipment. There’s also the tuning potential of the turbo V6. The aftermarket components are plentiful for this model, so if you want your 300 ZX to be even quicker, you can do it quite easily.

The prices for this model are currently at around $10,000 for decent examples with a full-service history and no accidents. You can find them at lower prices, but it is possible that these will not be as dependable. Since the 90’s Japanese cars are slowly getting more and more desirable, you’d better hurry up since the Nissan 300 ZX could soon go up in the skies.

3. BMW M3 E36

BMW built them from 1992 to 1999, and the E36 M3 featured a newly designed six-cylinder plant. Earlier models had a 3.0-liter engine with 291 HP. But from 1995 until the end of production, the bigger 3.2-liter with 321 HP was installed. Unfortunately, in America, the E36 M3s had only 240 HP due to emissions regulations, which crippled the otherwise powerful BMW engine.

Available as a sedan, coupe or convertible, the E36 M3 was popular. And it introduced new standards in handling and performance. The 0 to 60 mph times were around six seconds. Thanks to the chassis, the steering was sharp and the driving dynamics were perfect. You can find well-maintained and accident-free examples for around $10,000.

That is a bargain compared to newer M3 and M4 prices, especially considering you will get one of the most legendary performance models of the 90’s destined to be classics in the near future.

4. Porsche Boxster

The Boxster marked Porsche’s return to the flat-six engine after the front engine 924 and 944 featured an inline four-cylinder. They introduced it in 1997, and the Boxster is almost a classic model. This means it is affordable and plentiful on the used car market. The power comes from a 2.5, 2.7 or 3.2-liter flat-six engine mounted centrally behind the passengers for perfect road holding and weight distribution.

When it was launched, many car magazines praised the Boxster for its handling and precise steering, qualities that still stand today. With the power output ranging from 204 to 260 HP and 0 to 60 mph times in less than seven seconds, the Boxster is capable. And with two trunks, one in back and one in the front, this roadster is practical, too.

So, who needs an expensive 911 when you can have a first-generation Boxster from 1997 to 2004 for less than $10,000? And it what if comes in pristine condition that drives just as nice and has the same driving feel?

5. Ford Mustang GT 5.0 H.O.

The rise in power of domestic cars during the ’80s brought the first real performance to the Mustang range in almost 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more powerful with each model year, starting from 175 HP in the 1983 model. By the late ’80s, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 engine was pumping 225 HP and 300 lb-ft of torque.

These numbers translated to quite competent 0 to 60 mph times. The Mustang was once again an affordable performance car with cool styling, lots of options and enough power to spin the rear wheels in any gear. That is why most car fans consider the 1988 to 1993 Mustang 5.0 GT as one of the best 80’s muscle cars.

This car marked the return to Ford’s roots with a strong V8 engine and exciting performance. Also, the late ’80s Fox-body GT was popular, so they are plentiful today. This makes them a great choice for entry-level collectors. Also, the aftermarket for those cars is enormous, so you can easily and affordably make your Fox-body GT even faster.

6. SAAB 900 Turbo

SAAB introduced their 900 model in the late ’70s. This was when they were at the height of their success as an upscale manufacturer of high-quality, high-tech cars. They presented the 900 Turbo at a time when turbocharging was new. In fact, only a few models had it as a regular production item. But in the late ’70s, SAAB was briefly the only non-sports model with the option of a turbocharged engine.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder with forced induction produced 143 HP at first and all the way to 185 HP in later versions. They initially offered the 900 Turbo as a coupe, but it also came as a convertible. In the 80’s, SAAB cars were popular as stylish, yet usable, affordable transport with advanced technology and a unique design. Back in the day, the SAAB 900 was different from any other offering in that price class. The convertible was especially sought after in yuppie circles of young executives in the 80’s.

Fast forward 30 years and SAAB as a factory is no longer, but the spirit of invention and uniqueness of the 900 Turbo survives. If you are looking for a usable imported car with a specific design and technology, the 900 Turbo could be the answer. SAAB fans clubs are well-organized and there is solid support for spare parts. These cars are inexpensive and the turbo engine offers lots of opportunities for tuning and going over the 200 HP mark.

7. Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet introduced the Corvette C4 in 1984, so it’s a true ’80s classic. With a wedge-shaped body, pop-up headlights, rear hatch and bright colors, this generation is a true pop culture icon. However, there is much more about this car than funny stereotypes and GTA Vice City games. In fact, the Corvette C4 was the car that singlehandedly saved the Corvette from its demise.

During the last couple of years, the C3 generation has been a joke with its warmed-up ’60s styling and big engines delivering less than 200 HP. However, in 1984 everything changed with the arrival of the C4. The car was new from the ground up, with an updated chassis, engine, design, and crazy digital dash in the interior. It wasn’t perfect, but over the years, Chevrolet turned it into a world-class sports car.

They gave the C4 the performance and road holding to rival those European exotics, which were far more expensive. In fact, the chassis of C4 is so good, they still use it in modified form for the current C7 generation. In 1990 they presented the mighty ZR-1 with 400 HP and a performance that could beat any Ferrari. Today, the C4 is a largely overlooked machine despite its qualities.

The C1 and C2 Corvette prices are astronomical, early C3s are expensive and late models are not worth buying. But the C4 seems to be a great value and a car that will become more appreciated in years to come. You can find perfect examples of C4 Corvettes for around $10,000 and the fantastic ZR-1 for $20,000. And they are worth every penny. Not only do those cars look cool, they are fast and durable, so you can drive them every day if you want.

8. Peugeot 205 GTI

When Peugeot introduced the compact 205 model in 1983, a performance GTI version wasn’t in the cards. Realizing a hopped-up model could have a perspective on the market, Peugeot presented the 205 with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and 115 HP. The combination of a lightweight body, precise steering, rev-happy engine and lively performance proved extremely popular with global buyers. Peugeot even considered selling the 205 GTI in America.

However, since they pulled out of the market in 1991, U.S. buyers never got the chance to experience one of the best affordable compact performance cars of the 80’s. The 205 GTI was practical, economical and affordable and managed to get a cult following in Europe. In the late ’80s, the 205 GTI got a 1.9-liter engine upgrade that delivered 136 HP and improved performance. Despite the sales success of the regular model, Peugeot presented a homologation version they called the 205 T16.

It got the engine in the back and participated in the World Rally Championship and in the famous Group B. Since this model is over 25 years old, it is eligible for import to America. This makes it a tempting proposal for people looking for a unique, usable and budget-friendly hot hatch with motorsport provenance and vivid performance.

9. BMW Z3 Roadster

Roadsters became popular in the ’90s with the Mazda Miata showing the way, so all relevant car companies wanted a piece of the action. BMW had produced numerous convertibles before, but no roadsters, so the Z3 was their first. Despite this being a relatively modern car, it possesses the classic concept and analog driving feel. Also, it is the definitive future classic, so you may want to find yours today.

BMW used the E36 Compact 3 Series platform and rear suspension of the old E30 model, covering it with a sexy new open-top body to create the first Z3 model. The result was a stylish convertible with two seats and a lineup of potent four and six-cylinder engines. Also, it was lightweight and had great driving dynamics. The car was significantly more expensive than the Miata but also much better, faster and more luxurious, too.

They released the Z3 in 1996 in the middle of the roadster renaissance to an eager audience. It was one of the bestsellers in its class and a benchmark model in performance and handling. The Z3 was especially popular in America and interestingly, it was the first BMW solely produced in their new South Carolina factory.

Also, the appearance in the James Bond movie, GoldenEye, helped its popularity, too. BMW made close to 270,000 examples until 2002. So, for around $10,000, you can find a nice six-cylinder Z3 with all the luxury items. They include a leather interior, climate control and ABS, which will make cursing down the coast more enjoyable.

10. Volkswagen Golf R32

During the ’90s, in Europe, the hot hatch class was under heavy fire from insurance agencies and had an image of a hooligan’s express. This meant that most car manufacturers stopped producing such cars or produced one mild hot hatch model. After the crazy ’80s and the high-tech Delta Integrale or RS Cosworth of the early ’90s, the rest of the decade lacked interesting models.

Volkswagen’s Golf GTI was selling well and VW was one of the companies that never abandoned the market. But, the company was thinking of the future of the hot hatch class. The 21st century brought many technological innovations, electronic systems, and improvements in construction so why not implement that in a hot hatch of the future? And this is how the R32 was born in 2003.

Volkswagen took the Mk4 body shell and installed the best hardware it had in the early 2000s. That meant the R32 had an intelligent all-wheel drive, 240 HP 3.2-liter V6 engine, luxury interior and a host of electronic aids. This wasn’t the first AWD hot hatch or the fastest despite its 0 to 60 mph time of 6.4 seconds.

But it was the first “Uber” hatch to combine luxury and effortless high-speed cruising with exciting driving dynamics. Also, this was the first hot hatch to use a DSG transmission, which is a standard today in this class. All of this makes the R32 a definitive future classic and extremely capable everyday car. So, buy one now while they are still affordable.

11. Mitsubishi 3000 GT

The 3000 GT is another ’90s legend mainstream sports car enthusiasts have forgotten, which is a shame. With pop-up headlights, rear panorama glass, and big spoiler, the 3000 GT screams early 90’s car design. But there is much more about this car than contemporary nostalgia since this is one serious driving machine.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 with 300 HP. It sends power to all four wheels over an intelligent AWD system. This layout makes the 3000 GT a capable coupe that can tackle any road conditions and provide extra grip in extreme situations.

The only downside is the weight. Since the 3000 GT is full of technology, it weighs almost 1.8 tons or 3,800 pounds. However, with the acceleration times of just over five seconds, it seems like the 3000 GT carries it with ease. Although quite expensive when new, the 3000 GT is an inexpensive alternative to the more famous Supra or 300 ZX models. The lower production numbers make this car more exclusive, too.

  1. Mercedes SL R129

When you think of the best car of the 1990’s, there is one car that stands out and that is the famous Mercedes SL R129 generation. The SL roadsters were always fantastic driving machines and ultimate Stuttgart classics. But the R129 was a symbol of the decade and the automotive personification of success, power, speed and quality.

Introduced in 1989, the fourth generation of the Mercedes prestigious convertible was an advanced automobile. It had the latest technology, powerful engines and creature comforts. With an elegant design and quality materials, the SL became the must-have car for any successful driving enthusiast. Quite expensive when new, the R129 SL Roadsters now cost just a fraction of the original price with the same prestige and performance.

Over the course of 12 production seasons, Mercedes produced over 200,000 of them with several engines. However, the most sought-after ones are the cars they equipped with 5.0-liter V8 or 6.0-liter V12 units. Go for the V8 models since they are inexpensive to buy and run. Also, they offer almost the same level of refinement as their V12 cousins.

  1. Honda S2000

Honda introduced the S2000 in 1999 and discontinued it in 2009. But you could consider the S2000 a ’90s model, even though it came out at the end of the decade. This model was a true driver’s car with all the important features. It had lightweight construction, ideal weight distribution, a powerful and rev-happy engine and razor-sharp handling, all in an elegant open-top package.

Under the hood was a 2.0 or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 240 HP, which was the main selling point of the car. This little gem of an engine featured a 9,000 rpm red line, four valves per cylinder and Honda’s famous V-Tec system. All that provided the power at high rpm and a wonderful screaming sound. Thanks to intelligent engineering and a light weight, the S2000 had respectable performance and perfect handling, gaining it universal praise.

During its 10-year production run, Honda sold over 110,000 of these fast little roadsters. You will be pleased to know you can find one inexpensively today at around $6,000. However, there is one thing you should know. The S2000 is a small car with limited interior space. So, if you are over six feet tall, you will probably have problems fitting inside.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

The third generation Camaro was a well-received and popular car. But, after a while, buyers wanted more performance and power. So, Chevrolet delivered it in the form of the legendary IROC-Z version. Introduced in 1985, the IROC-Z was a tribute model to the Chevrolet-sponsored International Race of Champions racing series.

However, it was much more than just an appearance package and a cool name. Under the hood was the 350 V8 with 225 HP in the early years and 245 HP in later versions. Buyers could opt for manual or automatic. They tuned the suspension as well as the steering. Chevrolet even offered a cool-looking convertible, which was the first Camaro ragtop in 18 years.

The IROC-Z proved to be a popular, influential muscle car that finally brought some real performance to buyers. For long, the IROC-Z was an affordable ’80s muscle car, but recently, prices are starting to pick up as more people recognized this model as a true muscle car classic.

  1. Alfa Romeo Spider

Alfa Romeo introduced the Spider in 1966 as the Italian answer to the popularity of British roadsters. Eventually, it became globally popular and an Alfa Romeo model with the longest production run. Initially called the Duetto, the Spider was built on Alfa’s 105 sedan/coupe basis with a Pininfarina-designed body, all alloy twin cam engines and rear wheel drive.

While the rest of the roadsters vanished from the American market, Alfa managed to sell Spiders all the way to 1994. This just shows how popular this car was here. The engine choices ranged from 1.3 to 2.0-liter four cylinder with 105 to 130 HP. Earlier cars had carburetors and later models had fuel injection systems.

  1. Cadillac Allante

Cadillac envisioned the Allante as a competitor to the Mercedes SL convertible. It was a two-seater luxury convertible with Italian styling by Pininfarina. They equipped it with a Northstar V8 engine and front-wheel drive. Although that was quite an unusual combination, the car looked and performed well.

Even the production process was specific because they did the fabrication in Italy at the Pininfarina factory. Then they shipped the cars to the U.S. by jet, which affected the cost of the final product. The Allante stayed in production until 1993 and they made over 21,000 of them.

However, the car was too expensive to produce, so allegedly, the factory lost money on every Allante they made. But, today this piece of American-Italian engineering and design can be yours for just around 10,000 dollars, which is a steal.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am GTA

Pontiac presented the Trans Am GTA in 1987 as the top-of-the-range Firebird on offer. The package was available until the 1992 model year and they produced it in relatively limited numbers. But the secret weapons of the GTA were its engine and the WS6 handling package.

The engine was the 350 V8 with 210 HP in the early models and up to 245 HP in later versions. And rumor was that the engine was the same as in the Corvette since it used the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement.

However, it wasn’t the case. The Corvette used aluminum heads while the Pontiac used iron cast ones. However, the power and performance were quite similar. So if you are looking for affordable ’80s muscle car then the GTA should be high on your list.

  1. Honda CRX

One of the most interesting compact and affordable cars is the legendary Honda CRX. They built it from 1983 to 1991, basing it the on the Civic. But, it came with a lower and sportier body with only two seats. Since it was light and nimble and came with precise steering, the CRX was a true sports car.

However, unlike a sports car, it came with front-wheel drive and only got up to 140 HP. The biggest selling points were the extremely light body at 1,800 pounds and its high revving four-cylinder engine. You can find decent driver-quality cars for around $3,000.

Also, there is an enormous selection of aftermarket parts for your CRX. It was rumored that the CRX could beat some exotic sports cars in the handling department. And best of all, its driving dynamics are legendary.

  1. Chevrolet Blazer

The rising interest in classic off-road cars means that most of the legendary models like the Wagoneer, FJ40 or Bronco are out of reach for average enthusiasts. However, there is a solution and that is the 1973 to 1991 Chevrolet Blazer or GMC Jimmy. These off-road classics pair rugged off-road looks with simple but durable mechanics.

Also, you get a wide choice of engines including a diesel unit. And the uncompromised off-road capabilities make this model the one to have. And fortunately, GM produced millions of them in the long production span. This means finding one that is just right for you at the right price should be easy.

  1. Subaru BRAT

You might think the Subaru BRAT is a pickup because it sure looks like one. But if you look close enough, you will see two rear-facing seats in the bed. Those seats transform this compact truck into a passenger vehicle. They conceived the idea of the Subaru BRAT, which stands for “Bi-Drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter,” in the late ’70s

Subaru designed the BRAT to take advantage of the popularity of compact trucks in America. And thanks to its unusual features, affordable price and dependable mechanics, the BRAT was one of the most popular Subarus during the ‘80s. And it’s a cool classic today. Some owners removed the seats for more usable space, ruining the coolness and quirkiness of this unique car.

Did you pick your favorite from this list of the 20 best modern classics that won’t break the bank? If you did, you’d better get them fast before they become ultra-rare, expensive pieces of automotive history.

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