Maybe Michael Moore, The New York Times, and college universities everywhere have been right all along and capitalism really is evil. The rich guys are inflating the musclecar market. The automotive middle-class is dying. The hobby is being pilfered from the grassroots hot rodders who invented it. As such, if you're on a modest budget, it's time for a reality check. For less than $10K, you'll be lucky to find a '69 Camaro or a '67 Mustang fastback that doesn't require a team of forensic experts to confirm its identity. Even cars that aren't quite as revered, like a '71 Chevelle or a '72 Challenger, fetch price tags out of the reach of most enthusiasts. Sorry, chump, but the only solutions are getting rich or coming up with a new game plan.
Given our choice of profession, we're not exactly qualified to offer any sound advice on acquiring wealth, but we do have some ideas on picking up some not-as-popular pieces of Detroit iron. That said, GTOs, 'Cudas, and midyear Corvettes are out of the question. Instead, "Plan B" calls for considering cars outside your typical Top Ten list of all-time favorites-perhaps a car with an extra set of doors, or one built after 1972. The obvious drawback is a bit less-or in all honesty a lot less--sex appeal, but making that sacrifice lets you step into an affordable car in excellent running condition that requires minimal to no body work. Likewise, since the most vaunted musclecars of all time often shared platforms with siblings that weren't nearly as desirable, in addition to being way less expensive, these red-headed step-children often have a plethora of interchangeable parts at their disposal. Plus, cars of this vintage are exempt from smog in most states, and compared to late-models, invite rather than discourage turning wrenches.
We rationed an arbitrary budget of $7,500, then hit up the usual sources for listings like old car trader magazines, www.collectorcartrader.com, and eBay Motors. Our results were in line with what we expected: cars you'd hardly call screaming deals based on their year, make and model, but excellent values considering they're ready to cruise or race right out of the box. No tetanus boosters required. If our budget seems higher than usual, it's because it deviates from your typical magazine story on buying a used car in several respects. First of all, it doesn't take place in arid and overpopulated Southern California. Instead, the setting for this plot is in Pflugerville, Texas-a small town of 30,000 people just outside the Austin city limits from which your author engages in his freelance writing escapades. Consequently, cars are less plentiful and more expensive-circumstances the other 281 million people in America, who California-centric magazines often overlook, can more closely relate to. Here's what we found within a 200-mile radius.
1965 Ford Mustang CoupeEnthusiasts have always shied away from Mustang coupes, particularly the '64-65 models, because of the undeniable feminine appeal. Too cute, and not enough brawn. To compound matters, the slick fastback body style is one of the most potent forms of eye crack around. As a result, the value of the neglected coupes is inversely proportional to that of the coveted fastbacks. This '65 was selling for $4,350 and features a 289 small-block and a C4 transmission. If that doesn't suffice, a blown 5.0L motor and a Tremec five-speed stick would make for a sweet g-Machine powertrain without breaking the bank. As far as those girly looks go, a few simple tweaks like the hoodscoop and flared fenders have really toughened up this coupe's appearance. Any man could now cruise around in it and feel completely comfortable in his sexuality. Sure, the chrome fender trim may be a bit much for some, but fortunately it's easily removable. Currently, the car owner left the car at home when he went to college, and now mom's trying to sell it.
1971 Pontiac LeMansAt $7,500 this '71 LeMans topped the high end of our budget, but it was also the nicest car we ran across during our search. The body showed not a single ripple, and the fresh paint was glossy as well. What you're looking at is an aborted restoration project. The owner sunk a good lump of cash into it, but decided to sell it to fund the restoration of a '66 GTO it was sharing garage space with. All it really needs is to have the front bench seats reupholstered, then this baby's done. Speaking of the GTO, the '71 LeMans had smoother-flowing lines than the Goat that year and managed to dodge the ugly stick its A-body brother, the Chevelle, got bludgeoned with after 1970. What a potential buyer gets is an A-body that many think looks better than its more popular cousins, but at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, suspension and brake upgrades abound, and if you don't care for the original 350 Pontiac powering it, a small- or big-block Chevy will bolt right in. Making the deal even sweeter, this LeMans was equipped with A/C, power brakes and power steering.
1966 Ford RancheroHere's a car most people don't usually consider hot rodding, but makes a perfect candidate to hop up nonetheless. We found it on a collector car dealer lot with an asking price of $6,900, although there's probably room for haggling built into that figure. Since the '66 Ranchero was basically just a Falcon with a bed and early Mustangs were built on the Falcon platform, there are tons of suspension upgrades available that interchange between the cars. The '66 model year was an interesting one for the Ranchero, as its lines mimicked that of the Falcon and was used for only one model year. This particular Ranchero features a recently rebuilt 302 small-block, a C4 trans, dual exhaust, power brakes, a 3.25:1 rear end and even an aftermarket CD player. Plus, there's that handy bed perfect for parts hauling. Other years to consider are the '68-76 Rancheros that were based on the Torino platform. Consequently, they'll easily swallow up a big-block, and in fact, some left the factory with the 428 Cobra Jet motor.
1969 Plymouth Satellite SportAn extra set of doors gives otherwise stylish body styles a rather geriatric look, and the Satellite is no exception. However, for those with an open mind, there are some advantages for this sacrifice in "hipness." First off, four-doors can be had for less dough than their two-door counterparts. While $6,000 isn't exactly a bargain for this 318-powered Satellite Sport, we got a clear impression that the owner understood the public's aversion to four-doors, and accordingly, was negotiable on the price. That probably goes for other people trying to sell their four-doors as well. Secondly, geriatric styling appealed to none other than geriatrics themselves, and these cars are often unmolested low-mile vehicles in excellent mechanical condition. This all-original Satellite has only 58,000 miles, and shows minimal wear inside the cabin thanks to the old lady that owned it for most its life. The current owner used it as a daily driver for the last 9,000 miles, but got sick of getting raped with frequent trips to the gas pump. Other than a ding on the driver-side fender, the body is straight and the original paint has endured time remarkably well. Additionally, sharing the same B-body platform as the Belvedere, GTX and Road Runner, there is no shortage of aftermarket parts. The prospect of dropping a Hemi into this thing and lining up next to a new BMW M5 has a certain appeal, wouldn't you say?
1973 Buick Century RegalCars built after 1972 get little love from musclecar traditionalists, but with some creativity and an owner with skin thick enough to endure the inevitable ridicule, they can be transformed into competent performance machines. For instance, the Century was introduced in 1973 when GM redesigned its intermediate A-body coupes and sedans. With the Regal trim package, the Century featured a two-door notchback body that some people must have found stylish. Although GM didn't offer the 455 in the Regal, the motor was available in sedans ordered with the Grand Sport option. Thus, the 455 will drop right into a Regal, and that's exactly what we have here. The motor has less than 3,000 miles on the clock, and the owner conservatively rates it at 400 hp. A beefed-up TH400 trans backs it up, and there is over $10,000 invested into the drivetrain. You can't help to gawk at that pimp houndstooth upholstery either. Considering the money invested into it, the $6,500 asking price seems somewhat reasonable and the Regal would make for a potent street machine already trained to rumble.
1973 Chevrolet Chevelle LagunaWe found this car on a small country road named Looney Lane, no joke, where cattle outnumber people 50 to 1. That's quite fitting, being that you'd have to be a little cuckoo to like a car whose front end looks like it's been plowed into by a longhorn. Even the car's owner laughed when told it would appear in a car magazine. Cheap jabs aside, styling is subjective and some people do find the '73 Chevelle aesthetically appealing, particularly the Laguna we have here. If the front end is questionable, the rear profile is clean and tasteful. This example is the quintessential grandma car with only 66,000 original miles and a mint interior. Garaged almost its entire life, the original paint is still glossy and the only body damage is some crunched up trim around the passenger side fender. Although it has a 350 under the hood, it's an absolute turd, and a big-block will fit in nicely as the SSs were originally available with 454s from the factory. The car has now been passed on to the original owner's son, who wants it gone to free up garage space for his other toys. The $5,500 asking price even includes nifty swivel bucket seats.
1976 Pontiac Firebird EspritProject g/28 has already proven that with some simple bolt-on suspension pieces, Second-Gen Camaros are extreme handling machines, so it only makes sense to entertain the idea of building a Firebird project car. We stumbled upon this Poncho at the same dealer we found the Ranchero at with a price tag of $6,900. You might think it's insane to pay that much for a '76 Firebird, but this is about as clean as they come. It packs a freshly rebuilt 400 engine and a TH350 trans in addition to a new torque converter, steering box, radiator and disc brakes. In other words, not only are the usual wear and tear items new, this is one GM that might not even leak. The Esprit package means Lexus-like luxury inside-well at least by '70s standards-with disco-red leather buckets and factory air conditioning. If you don't care to make friends with other Pontiac loyalists, swapping out the 400 motor and TH350 for an LS1 and a six-speed would complete the g-Machine formula quite nicely.