The Luxury Ponycar
1983-97 Thunderbird
If you ever wished your Fox-body Mustang had more legroom, plush leather, and dare we say, better handling, you might want an '83-97 Ford Thunderbird or Mercury Cougar. We've broadened this category to include the Fox-platform '83-88 cars, which are more affordable and offer an 8.8-inch solid-axle rear due to the fact that they shared platform architecture with the Fox-body Mustang. These early models are perfect for anyone who is a bit bored with Mustangs, but wants to apply nearly all of the parts that were developed for the Mustang. Lowering the car and applying a Turbo Coupe nose can create a car that looks hungry to eat up miles of road, while traditional 5.0L tricks can create a respectable performer.

The more adventurous will go for the later models, which had IRS ('89-97, MN12 chassis). The Super Coupe variant even included an intercooled, supercharged 3.8L V-6. This supercharged engine is old technology compared to Ford's EcoBoost engine, but it can easily propel a Super Coupe into the 12s and deliver very livable fuel economy. Most hot rodders will opt for the '91-93 models when the 5.0-liter was once again available, or the '94-98 versions with the two-valve 4.6L mod motor. Either can be built into a serious performance motors for a reasonable amount of money.

The real advantage of the 10th-generation Thunderbird is the chassis. With the IRS, a performance handling car is relatively easy to build. Also, unlike the Mustang of the same era, you can fit decent-sized tires under the 'Bird.

Model years: '83-97 Ford Thunderbird or Mercury Cougar
Most desirable: '94-96 with 5.0L V-8
Engine you want: either the 5.0L or 4.6L V-8
Why you want it: All the good things about a Mustang
but with more room and luxury
Price range: $4,000-$6,000

Rockin' The Mullet
1978-83 Chevy Malibu
For some reason, the image of a half-dozen mullets stumbling out of an '81 Malibu wagon is conjured up each time we talk about this version of the downsized A-body (by that point in time, called the G-body). Quite a few drag racers are working to replace that image with cars rockin' down the quarter-mile in astonishingly short times. We all know that the combo of a relatively small car, V-8 power, and rear-wheel drive makes for a dandy drag car. It was also eligible for NASCAR racing, but only one driver (Dave Marcis) ever gave it a serious go in that arena.

The Malibu was available as a coupe, sedan, station wagon, and El Camino. The wagons feature operational wing windows on the back doors. The sedans look like mini Caprices, while the coupe has the right proportions to be desirable for decades to come. At a passing glance, the coupe form has almost the same square proportions of the vaunted '66-67 SportsRoof Nova.

The engine to get is the 305 V-8, but again, only as a placeholder, and to provide the brackets and accessories you'll need to bolt onto a better small-block.

There were multiple BOP variants of the Malibu, and even a GMC version of the El Camino (the Caballero), so you can pick the grille and taillight design of your liking.

One of the things we like best about the Malibu is that it can be built in just about any style and look good. Throw some Torq-Thrusts on it and it's a cruiser. Slam it and put on 18s, and it can look as modern as any car. Put a big-horsepower motor in it and 26x9.5 slicks and you have a drag car. You could even pull off a NASCAR look and have a mini PHR Laguna!

Model years: '78-83 GM A-/G-body
Most desirable: any coupe model
Engine you want: 305 V-8
Why you want it: A very affordable, lightweight midsized car that can be
built any way you like
Price range: $2,000-$7,000