1973 Pontiac Ventura
Here is a car that is more about being different than finding a cheaper alternative to a more popular car. A '73 Ventura will not cost you much less than a comparable '73 Nova, but it will get you noticed. The distinguishing characteristic for the '70-73 Ventura has to be the slotted grille, which features four distinctive "mail slots" and an aggressive center peak not found on other X-body cars. In our book, the Ventura's grille was ahead of its time and had an aerodynamic quality not found on its siblings. Ventura output in '73 topped out at 96,500 cars. When you compare that to the nearly half a million Pintos made in that same time you will see that the Ventura was a pretty low-production car. About $3,000 will get you a clean example if you look around hard enough. Besides, there is a certain mystique in owning a car that some people have never even heard of.
For this car we'd go a different direction. Instead of the Pro Touring treatment, try more of a street-fighter look that is a marriage between Pro Touring and Pro Street. A fuel-injected aluminum-headed big-block motor and a 400 transmission would be a great choice to crush the competition. For a little more dough, you could supercharge that big-block and drop jaws whenever the hood is popped. Gray center Torque Thrust II wheels give it a vintage feel and a taller back tire gives the car more of a street-fighter rake. Sometimes being different is just a matter of reinventing a classic look with a new twist.
1982 Chevrolet Camaro
If this story is about forgotten cars that should be built, then why is a Camaro in here? Well, because we are still amazed at how few of these cars get the g-Machine treatment. 1982 was the first year of this new body style and the venerable F-body was downsized in a good way. Seven inches shorter, 3 inches slimmer and fractionally lower on the new 101-inch wheelbase, the Camaro was finally a more realistic size for handling. They were also the first Camaros built without rear leaf-spring suspensions. MacPherson struts now held up the frontend and the rear used a long torque arm and coil spring system. The downside to this era of car is the pathetic horsepower that was offered. For '82, the 150hp V-8s were sad enough, but the 90hp four-cylinder models on the base car seemed like an insult to the nameplate. Even with smog laws, it is easy to up the power on these great-looking cars. Motor Trend even gave the '82 the coveted Car of the Year award, so it obviously has something going for it.
In '82, GM pumped out 182,068 Camaros with 63,563 of them being the top-of-the-line Z28. Fortunately, this body style stuck around until '92, so there are literally hundreds of them for sale at any given time. On one site alone we found well over 800 '82-92 Camaros offered for prices ranging from over $20,000 for a very low-mile perfect example Z28 to $200 for a basket case. The short version is that for a couple of grand you can pick up a pretty clean little starter car without breaking a sweat.
In our example here, you can see how good these Third-Gen Camaros can look with minimal effort. Shaved door handles and side markers clean up the body while aftermarket suspension parts get the car closer to the ground. Toss on some big SSBC brakes wrapped in suitable rolling stock and you are looking good. One of GM's smog-friendly Ramjet crate motors mated to a T-56 and those tragic days of 90hp 4-cylinder motors will be long forgotten.
The Ones That Got Away
We really wrestled with this story to pick cars that would create a spark. The downside to a story like this is that there are a lot of cars we considered that didn't make the list. The GM offerings are particularly problematic because so many iterations were made off relatively few platforms. The mid-'70s A- and X-body variants were the toughest. It really hurt to leave off cars like the '73 Pontiac LeMans, the '77 Olds Omega, the '76 Buick Regal, or Olds 442 (to name a few).
Another tough call was the Chevy Monza/Pontiac Astre/Olds Starfire. These were some of the most lightweight cars ever to pack a V-8, and they're still wildly popular among bracket racers and weekend road racers. But when it came time to find one for sale, the cupboard was empty. Either they're all used up, or their owners love 'em so much that nobody wants to part with one.
Then there are the cars that aren't that sought-after, but for some mysterious reason, command big bucks anyway. We found a lot of '60s cars that fit this bill. Ever look at the price of a '65 Plymouth Fury in good condition? How 'bout a '69 Ford Galaxy 500 fastback or a '67 Olds Cutlass F85? You can't touch a decent one for under $10K, but the price should've been half that in light of the fact you can still get a righteous '69 Camaro for $10K. We did pick the '66 Buick Riviera, though.
Its lines are too bad-ass to be ignored, and apparently, all the high-end builders out there haven't seen the potential in it.Some cars that didn't make the list were just too screwball for the mainstream. Take some of my personal favorites, for example, the '72 Plymouth Fury, the unloved Ford Pinto, or the '73 AMC Hornet hatchback that sports a grille that's the spitting image of a '67 GTX. At least I got my '81 Chrysler Imperial on the list. Nobody thought that one would work until I showed them pictures of Buddy Arrington's stock car! (Thank God for the Internet...)
Yes, we missed the boat with many great cars, but this story really isn't about voting for our favorites, it's about moving the hobby forward with cars that are still affordable and for which many parts are available right now. --Johnny Hunkins