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Personal picks: What collector car would you buy with a $30,000 budget?

Consumer Reports News: September 16, 2011 01:53 PM

The Consumer Reports Cars team simply won’t stop talking about cars. If we’re not discussing the finer points of new models in our test program, the conversation eventually settles on a what we would personally buy based on myriad criteria. This time, we’re focused on “collector” cars under $30,000. That covers a lot of ground, and we invite you to join in the conversation. Post your picks in the comments below.

Jeff Bartlett: I’ve been down this road before, with a restified 1980 Chevrolet Corvette treated to a body-off restoration, then stuffed with an LT1 powertrain. Among the lessons learned: buy what you personally love, always have a cash reserve, and truly drive it. With that in mind, I’d aim for $25,000 and under in this exercise. A co-worker has been taunting me this week with a listing for a low-mileage Pontiac Firebird SLP Firehawk; he knows just how to have me balancing the checkbook. Aiming a touch lower, I’d be thrilled with a Trans Am WS6 in white, with T-Tops and more raised scoops than a cheese grater. The last of the T/As were a hoot to drive, with a distinctly low driving position, raucous exhaust burble, and terrific, trouble-enticing stick shift. Plus, the prices are low enough to be closer to my real budget. And in this $30k exercise, I'd have money left to buy used motorcycle and address any problems down the road. It is a shame there aren't any Pontiac dealers left for servicing, however.

Eric Evarts: Having recently sold my ($3,000) collector car, I’m not ready for another one yet. The lessons of collector-car ownership are perhaps still too raw: A car that doesn’t get driven becomes undriveable. Worse, it simply plugs up the garage. And if it doesn’t get driven, it obviously falls down the priority list for either time or money to maintain it and prevent all its joints from stiffening.

So any collector car in my household has to serve a dual purpose, that is, it has to be useful as well as fun to ensure it gets driven and maintained. With that in mind, I’ve resolved that my next collector car, if anything will be a truck. Something old, classic, rugged, simple, and useful. It can be hot-rodded with a rumbling V8 engine and modern suspension, or original. I’m not looking to carve corners, or take long trips. It has to be simple and indestructible. I’ve always liked the vibe and relative handling and comfort of early ’70s Chevrolet El Caminos, but my wife won’t be seen with me in one. So for now, I’ll stick to the classic American pickup. Anything rust-free and looking sharp from Ford or Chevrolet from after World War II and up through about 1980 will suffice.

Gordon Hard: Without any question I’d buy a 1963-1965 four-door Lincoln Continental convertible, with “suicide” rear doors, and a 345-hp, 430-cu-inch (7.0-liter) V8.

It has a hood that doesn’t quit, a ride like heaven on earth, at least five cows’ worth of leather, more toys than FAO Schwartz, and enough cabin space to sleep six.

Tom Mutchler: Would I ever spend $30,000 on a car that I intended to keep primarily for its collector value? Probably not. The idea of having that much money tied up in something that I had to keep pristine and low-mileage seems out of character and sort of unfun. (Anyway, today I'd put that $30K toward the bigger Airstream + used Sierra Denali fund.)

But if I was going to take the collector car plunge, I'd probably buy a low-mile C5 Corvette Z06. This car is lots of fun and thoroughly modern. Plus, this is really the hottest version, which usually draws a ready audience. It would be really hard though to keep the miles off of it or to keep it off the track, however.

1997-Acura-NSX.jpgGabe Shenhar: Confession: I’m not the type who’d want to spend every weekend fixing something or sinking tons of money into a bottomless pit of stylish automotive nostalgia. Another confession: I like driving the cars I own more than detailing them and displaying them in a Concours d’Elegance.

That said, my $30,000 collector’s car would be an Acura NSX, vintage 1998. This masterpiece machine is spectacular to drive, yet it can serve as a daily driver. Handling is fantastic, the shifter is slick, the V6 engine’s sound is delicious, and the car doesn’t beat you up. But 30 grand might be a bit too high for a semi-frivolous hobby car right before I have to worry about college education for my kids.

So in case I only had $20,000 to spend, I’d pick up a 2002 Porsche Boxster S. It’s too early to tell if it would ever become a collector’s car, but does it really matter? This Boxster is delightful to drive, with its perfect steering and brake feel, amazing body control, and superlative handling. And the S version gives the car that much needed extra oomph. The sound is invigorating and the trunk in the front gives it a modicum of practicality.

With either choice I clearly would opt to have a smile on my face rather than grease under my fingernails.

Ryan Pszczolkowski: I’d buy a 1978-1983 Porsche 911 SC. I’ve always loved the 911 body style and after I got the chance to drive one, I loved it even more. It’s a car meant for driving and nothing more. Any German car is not particularly cheap to own or maintain, but the early air-cooled Porsches were fairly simple and they are slowly becoming collector’s items.

Jennifer Stockburger: My pick would be a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible. I currently have a ’67 and that’s cool but my real wish is to have a ’66 since that’s the year I was born. But I would also want it all restored and made to be easier to drive. For example, the one I have has four-wheel drum brakes, no power steering and a manual transmission. Not exactly high-tech, but I don’t have the time to fix and change everything. I just want one I can take out cruising at my leisure.

Mike Quincy: I think the best advice about buying an old car is to make sure you like it. Yes, YOU. I mean, who knows what makes or models will go up or down in value. The truth is, if you like it - whether it’s a classic MG, Jaguar E-Type, or an AMC Pacer - who cares what it’s worth?

That said, like Jennifer Stockburger, I already own an old car (’65 Mustang GT Fastback) and it gets very little attention. My kids love it and every time I drive it, it stops traffic.

But if I were going to do it again, I’d probably look for a convertible with a few modern touches. I’ve liked every BMW Z4 I’ve driven, even though it was never as edgy as a Honda S2000 or as agile as a Porsche Boxster. But, to me, the Z4 was comfortable enough to be a relaxed cruiser, but it also had a strong and pleasant-sounding six-cylinder engine when I felt like being bad. I’d probably have to find a 2007-08 model to keep within this budget, but at least I’d get standard stability control. Bonus: CR’s data shows many years of decent reliability.

Jeff Bartlett

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