The Mustang Years
1994-'04 Ford Mustang
While the Mustang has the honor of being both the first ponycar, as well as the longest continuously produced ponycar, few would argue that the car lost its way along the performance path from '73 to '79. The introduction of the Fox-bodied cars and the ease of modifying the 5.0-liter earned back the car's muscle car pedigree in the '80s and '90s. But the Fox platform evolved over time and produced the '94-04 version, dubbed the SN-95.

If not for continuing with the 302 V-8, the car might have fallen completely off the hot rod bandwagon. After '95, the pushrod motor was discontinued, and a 4.6L overhead cam engine was introduced. At first, this engine was not embraced by the performance community, but it has since become popular as an affordable V-8 to make really good power.

This is the model that we are selecting as a future classic, partially because the Fox-bodied cars before it and the fifth-generation Mustangs that came after it have already secured their places as classics. Because the SN-95 was shunned in its day for both design cues and an overhead cam motor, many haven't been back to revisit the car.

By the Numbers
Model years: '94-04 Ford Mustang
Most desirable: '94-95 with 5.0L V-8
Engine you want: any V-8
Why you want it: Inexpensive and easy to build, lots of parts available
Price range: $2,000-$8,000

Keep On Truckin'
Domestic Light Truck
We did much teeth gnashing on whether to include trucks in this list or not, but when you're talking about inexpensive hot rod material, the small trucks produced by Ford, Dodge, and GM are hard to ignore. Of these, the Dodge Dakota is the only one that was available with a V-8, but doing a V-8 swap in both the Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10 is easy.

The S-trucks were built from '82 through '04. During that time, there was a major redesign for '04, which created a much sleeker-looking mini-truck. While Chevy and GMC were the only brands on the truck, the Oldsmobile Bravada (S-based SUV) front end bolts on. One of the most respected models from this run was the '91 GMC Syclone. The 4.3L turbocharged V-6 made 280 hp and the all-wheel-drive system could put it to the ground, scaring Camaros and Mustangs of the same era.

The Ford Ranger has had the longest run of the bunch, being produced from '83 through today. The '83-92 models are pretty homely looking, but the '93-to-current trucks can be built to look pretty cool. And there are kits available to swap a V-8 into any of them. If that's your ultimate goal, do some research before you buy a truck, as you can often retain the original transmission.

The Dodge Dakota was always the oddball in this group of mini-trucks by design. Dodge wanted to be in the middle, between a small truck, and the fullsize pickups in size and capability. Hence, the Dakotas are a bit a bigger and were available with a V-8 from '91 on. They also had some of the oddest special editions. Remember the '89-91 convertible Dakota? Or the '89 Shelby edition, which was Shelby's first rear-wheel-drive vehicle in roughly 20 years? The span from '91 to current actually covers three generations of the truck.

BY THE NUMBERS
Model years: '82-04 GM S-10, S-15, Sonoma, Blazer, Jimmy and Bravada;
'83-present Ford Ranger; '91-present Dodge Dakota
Most desirable: '02-04 Dakota Quad Cab with the 4.7L V-8 is a turnkey hot
rod with four doors
Engine you want: It only matters on the Dodge, where you want the V-8
Why you want it: Style and performance with the ability to carry its new
engine home in the back
Price range: $1,000-$6,000