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Summer is Around the Corner: 20 Inexpensive Classic Roadsters

Vukasin Herbez March 6, 2019

  1. Austin Healey Sprite Mk1

If you look at the Austin Healey Sprite Mk1, you will see how the industry has advanced in the last 50 years. The little, bug-eyed Sprite Mk1 is a tiny roadster with two seats, a cramped interior and a small trunk. It weighs just 1,500 pounds and gets its power from a 943 CCM engine that produces just 45 HP. Although this may sound like a joke, the Sprite Mk1 was an immensely popular roadster back in the day.

In fact, Austin Healey sold over 350,000 examples, most in America. In fact, the U.S. consumers loved it for the compact size, peppy engine, nice driving dynamics and pure driving feel. Basically, when you drive a bug eye Sprite Mk1, there is nothing between you and the road. It looks like a little tin can with a small windshield.

Not surprisingly, the Sprite Mk1 was a favorite car in amateur racing on the West Coast. Interestingly, many latter racing champions started driving behind the wheel of this little thing. So, for around $20,000, you can find a nice example that will introduce you to the basics of open-top motoring.

  1. BMW Z3

Roadsters became popular in the ‘90s with the Mazda Miata showing the way. As a result, all the relevant car companies wanted a piece of the action. Although BMW produced numerous convertibles before it, they never built any roadsters, so the Z3 was their first. Despite this being a relatively modern car, the Z3 possesses the classic roadster concept and analog driving feel.

In fact, it is a definite future classic, so maybe you should by yours today. To create the first Z3, BMW used an E36 Compact 3 Series platform and a rear suspension from the old E30. Next, they covered it with a sexy new open-top body. The result was a stylish convertible with two seats and a lineup of potent four and six-cylinder engines. Also, it had a low weight, giving it great driving dynamics.

The car was significantly more expensive than the Miata. However, it was also much better, faster and luxurious. 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 the performance and handling departments. The Z3 was especially popular in America.

Interestingly it was the first BMW they solely produced in their new South Carolina factory. Also, an 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. Look for one with a leather interior, climate control and ABS, which will make cruising down the coast much more enjoyable.

  1. Triumph Spitfire

The Spitfire is the second definitive British roadster from the ‘60s and in most people’s opinions, much cooler than the MG B. Despite having similar mechanics, modest power and performance, the Spitfire got its name from World War Two fighter plane. It had a much more aggressive and sportier design with lower sides and a sharper front end.

Triumph presented this legendary roadster in 1962. They added a diminutive 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine that only provided 63 HP. Over the years, the power grew to the 1.5-liter engine delivering 71 HP and more torque, which improved the driving dynamics. Like all other British roadsters, the biggest market was the U.S.

And out of the 314,000 Triumph made, most of them ended up in America. This means the Spitfire is easy to come by and relatively inexpensive to purchase. Decent examples cost below the $10,000 mark. So, for $15,000, you can get a perfect late model with the hard top option.

  1. Mazda Miata

One of the most successful stories in the car industry is about the Mazda Miata roadster. In fact, this little car changed the world, becoming the bestselling open-top model in automotive history. It even passed the one-million mark in 2013. Nobody expected the Miata would become so successful and influential when Mazda announced it in the late ‘80s.

But soon after the introduction, the industry realized that roadsters were coming back, so the Miata completely dominating the market. The Miata’s secret was its simplicity, light weight and balance. But Mazda didn’t try to invent something new. They just used the basic concept of a classic British roadster and added modern materials and designs that made the whole thing dependable and agile.

With 116 HP coming from the twin-cam 1.6-liter engine, it may not sound impressive, but in a 2,200-pound car, it’s more than enough. And if you are looking for the most affordable examples, the first-generation Miata can provide many memorable moments for just a few thousand dollars. Best of all, there are many aftermarket options to transform your little Miata into a sports car killing machine, too.

  1. Triumph TR6

If the Spitfire was Triumph’s roadster for the masses, the TR6 was a car for serious lovers of open-air driving and speed. The Spitfire was underpowered even though it weighed only 1,500 pounds. However, the TR6 had decent power and a convincing performance straight out of the box.

The TR6 was a successor to the TR5 and the TR250, which was for U.S.-market only. They all shared the same basic construction, dimensions and design. They presented the TR6 in 1968 featuring disc brakes all around. Also, it came with an independent suspension and a 2.5-liter straight six engine that pumped out 145 HP. Thanks to its weight of just under 2,200 pounds, the TR6 was agile.

In fact, it was among the fastest power roadsters on the market in the late ‘60s. They ended its production in 1976 after making more than 90,000. Today, the TR6 is a popular choice for classic roadster fans who want the old school looks and feel with a decent performance and speed. You can find a decent example for around $20,000.

  1. Datsun Fairlady Roadster

One of the most interesting Japanese copies of a European car was the cute, compact Datsun Fairlady Roadster. They built it from 1959 to 1970, and it was also known as the Datsun Sports. They directly borrowed the design, technology and feel from British roadsters, especially from the Triumph and MG.

However, Datsun did more than just emulate the British. They gave their little roadster some significant power with a 2.0-liter engine and better handling and driving dynamics. And, most importantly, Datsun guaranteed the quality of their cars, which is something the British cars had difficulties doing.

Datsun made over 40,000 of those cool little cars over the 11-year production period. And most of them sold in the USA with left-hand drive. Today, you can find a decent example for just over $15,000. Imagine having a cool sports convertible with better construction than anything coming from the UK.

  1. Alfa Romeo Spider

Entering the car market in 1966, the Alfa Romeo Spider was the Italian answer to the popularity of British roadsters. Eventually, it became globally popular and the Alfa Romeo model with the longest production run. Initially, they called it the Duetto, building the Spider on Alfa’s 105 sedans/coupe base. It came with a Pininfarina-designed body, all alloy twin cam engines and rear wheel drive.

During the late ‘60s, the Spider became popular after the movie, The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman drove a red example. While most roadsters vanished from the American market, Alfa managed to sell Spiders all the way up to 1994. And that just shows how popular this car was in the states. The engine choices ranged from 1.3 to 2.0-liter four cylinders producing 105 to 130 HP. While the earlier cars had carburetors, the later models came with fuel injection systems.

Alfa made over 124,000 elegant Spiders, selling most of them in America. The final model year was 1994 and there were four generations of this model. Alfa Romeo kept the same mechanical layout but changed some design details, bumpers and lights. But for less than $20,000, you can pretend you are a young Dustin Hoffman. However, do pay attention to any rust issues since those classic Alfa Spiders are rust prone.

  1. Porsche Boxster

Although the third generation Porsche Boxster is currently in production, they presented the first generation model in 1996 and discontinued it in 2004. It’s been over 20 years since Porsche introduced this roadster, but it is safe to say the Boxster revolutionized the concept of the open top fun car. And, it has stood the test of time as a future classic that you can own today.

The Boxster’s big advantage is its layout. While most cars use the front engine, rear wheel drive construction, the Boxster has a mid-mounted flat-six engine. This gives it perfect balance, room for two trunks and sublime handling. Since the base 2.5-liter delivers a healthy 200 HP, it makes even the most affordable Boxsters quite agile.

The Boxster is fast and exciting to drive, especially if you pair it with a six-speed manual transmission. So, if you think the ‘90s Porsche design is good looking and want a perfect piece of German engineering with open-air flavor, this is the roadster for you. For around $10,000, you can find decent examples from the late ‘90s.

  1. Fiat 124 Spider

The Alfa Spider wasn’t the only Italian contender in the classic roadster class. Fiat`s 124 Spider was also a popular, affordable choice as well as an interesting proposition for lovers of the convertible design and Italian charm. Fiat presented it in 1966, selling the Spider in America until 1985. Pininfarina designed the Fiat 124 Spider, which they built on the 124 Sedan platform.

The mechanics were quite straightforward with its twin-cam engine, four-speed manual transmission and rear wheel drive. The early models got 90 HP from the 1.6-liter engine, while later versions got 2.0-liter engines with fuel injection delivering 102 HP. The 124 Spider was one of the more comfortable options since it featured a roomy cabin and big trunk.

Also, the ride quality was good, so nice examples are highly sought after. But don`t worry, Fiat built over 200,000 examples and most of them are in America. And that means finding one will be easy, but you can expect to pay around $15,000 for a near mint example.

  1. Renault Floride/Caravelle

You might see some of the cars from this list in traffic since all of them are quite common in America. But, you will have to dig in deep to find a Renault Caravelle in your daily commute rather than in car shows or museums. However, it was so popular, Renault managed to sell 117,000 of them during the 10-year production run from 1958 to 1968.

Based on the mechanics of Renault’s economy 4CV model, the Floride/Caravelle was a cool roadster with a rear mounted the four-cylinder engine and 2+2 seating configuration. Renault intended to call the car the Floride for sale in the USA. However, later they decided to name the model the Caravelle for their U.S. buyers and the Floride for the rest of the world. Interestingly, most of their cars ended up in America, even though the British roadsters of the ‘60s made the Renault look outdated and slow.

To be honest, despite looking elegant, the Caravelle was slow since the biggest engine was a 1.1-liter four-cylinder only producing 55 HP. However, if you are desperately in love with the French charm of this little convertible, are not in a hurry and want a car nobody else has, then the Renault Caravelle is for you. You can find them for around $10,000, which is quite affordable for such a rare model.

  1. Honda S2000

Honda introduced the S2000 in 1999 and discontinued it in 2009. However, you can consider the S2000 to be a ‘90s model, even though they presented it at the end of the decade. This model was a true driver’s car with all the important features. It came with lightweight construction and ideal weight distribution. Honda added a powerful, rev-happy engine and razor-sharp handling.

And, all of that came in an elegant open-top package. Under the hood was a 2.0 or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine pumping out 240 HP, which was the main selling point of the car. This little gem of an engine featured a 9000-rpm red line and four valves per cylinder. But it was the famous Honda V-Tec system that provided all the power in high rpms. And best of all, it created a wonderful screaming sound.

Thanks to its intelligent engineering and light weight, the S2000 provided a respectable performance. And drivers universally praised it for its perfect handling. During its decade long production run, Honda sold over 110,000 of these fast, little roadsters. You will be pleased to know that you can find one today for a fair price, at around $6,000.

However, look for unmodified examples since those stock S2000s will be the most desirable. And there is one more thing you should know. The S2000 is a tiny car with limited interior space. So, if you are over six feet tall, you will probably have problems fitting inside.

  1. Mercedes SL R107

You may think the R107 doesn’t belong on this list since the Mercedes SL isn’t exactly a small convertible. However, if you look at it carefully, you will see that this generation fits the bill perfectly. The first reason is that it is strictly a two-seater convertible. Secondly, it is an old school model they built with the highest standards of quality.

Thirdly, it offers a lot of enjoyment, power, and comfort for the money. And the fourth and final reason is that it’s a great summer cruiser. In fact, the SL R107 is a good investment since the prices of classic SL models are constantly on the rise. Better yet, this generation was in production from 1971 to 1989, so it is quite common.

The engine choices include one six-cylinder engine and several V8s, including the range-topping 560 V8. You should find a 450 or 500 V8 engine since they are the most popular. Also, they offer the best combination of power and efficiency.

Mercedes sold over 237,000 of those elegant convertibles during the 18-year old run. And believe or not, almost two-thirds of them were U.S.-spec cars. That is why you won’t have any problem finding the right example for you. However, be ready to pay around $25,000 for decent examples of this Teutonic power roadster.

  1. Sunbeam Alpine/Tiger

One of the most interesting yet forgotten models in the classic roadster class is the Sunbeam Alpine. It was an English two-seater convertible Sunbeam built from 1959 to 1968. Sunbeam is a classic English brand, long gone from the market, so only a handful of enthusiasts remember them. However, the Alpine is an attractive car with dependable, conventional mechanicals and a small 1.5 or 1.7-liter four-cylinder.

Over the years, Sunbeam built over 60,000 of Alpine roadsters, so finding one shouldn’t be a problem. So, for under $20,000, you can find a nice example of this interesting car. However, if you are looking for a more serious machine, look for the Sunbeam Tiger. This model looks identical to the Alpine but packs a 260 or 289 Ford V8 engine under the hood.

And all that power gives it a much better performance and soundtrack. Before he worked for Ford, the legendary Carroll Shelby designed this model. Even though the Tiger is significantly more expensive and rarer since they build only 7,000, it has a cool history. Also, the stellar performance is well worth the investment.

  1. Honda Beat

The spiritual successor to the classic Honda S600 roadster is the ‘90s Honda Beat. Honda introduced it in 1991, selling it until 1996. The Beat was a small, nimble roadster with just 660 CCM of displacement and producing 63 HP.

In the typical Honda fashion, they naturally aspirated and equipped the car with a five-speed manual transmission. At just 1,656 pounds, it was immensely fun to drive. Honda built over 33,000 Beats in its five-year production run.

Summer is around the corner, so these are the 20 best classic roadsters you can buy today. Did you choose your favorite? They come in a range of prices that are sure to rise, so get out there and start shopping for one now while they are still affordable.

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