Everyone knows Chevrolet parts are the cheapest. The problem is Chevrolets have been “the affordable classics” for so long that the cars themselves are getting too expensive to buy now. You can fix one without spending a lot, but you don’t gain anything because the cost of entry is higher. Enough about that for now; time for some alternatives.
Assuming you aren’t a bowtie diehard, there are more classic car options out there. Unfortunately, they may be a little ugly or a little weird. You don’t have to go AMC Marlin ugly, but those could be an option if they’re your jam. The most normal affordable classic is the Mustang coupe. Ford built millions of them in the decade prior to the Mustang II, and they are identical to the more expensive Fastback from the windshield forward. A relatively rust-free example – if you can find one – costs somewhere around ten grand. The 67-70 coupe is a little more expensive, but you can cram a big block in there if you want to. Assuming you don’t want to squeeze a big block into your budget classic, an inline-six Mustang is a bargain basement choice if you desire classic style and don’t care about performance. If you need more power, there’s the ubiquitous small block Ford. It’s hard to beat a classic Mustang with a 289 or 302 in terms of affordability and reliability, and parts are virtually as plentiful as Chevy parts. If you can stand to look at them, Mustang II’s are even cheaper to buy than early coupes.
Again, largely ignoring the diminutive Mustang II due to my general distaste for the way they look, we skip ahead to the Foxbody Mustang. Available with everything from a 4-cylinder engine with horsepower so abysmal it’s not worth looking up to the legendary 5.0 cranking out… well, honestly not that much power either from the factory in today’s terms. The SVO is out there too if you want to be different. Nice Foxes are beginning to fetch higher prices, but if you want to do some work yourself or don’t mind shabby bodywork there are still bargains to be found. Drop a few thousand on the car, then go to Summit Racing and burn the rest of your budget on building the ultimate 80’s muscle car. If you don’t want a Mustang, the Foxbody platform was shared with gems like the Fairmont, Thunderbird, and even a few hundred Durango coupe utility vehicles (half car, half truck like a Ranchero or El Camino). That’s right, Ford made a Durango.
One point of caution for those looking for a Blue Oval was Ford’s notorious tendency to change parts frequently and not share a lot of pieces between vehicles, especially when compared to GM. This means you may have a hard time sourcing one-year only parts that only fit one or two models. That warning aside, there’s nothing stopping you from grabbing a Falcon, Maverick, Fairlane, Comet, later Galaxie, or some Torinos for a decent price. All of those are fine examples of vintage Detroit steel, and most are affordable. They each have their own unique qualities and upsides and downsides. Falcons, Mavericks, and later Mercury Comets are all small and lightweight – perfect for dumping a hopped-up 347 stroker or 351 Windsor into and terrorizing the local track night. Fairlanes and earlier Comets are a little bigger, but not bruisers, and would make great cruisers and occasional track warriors. Early Galaxies are pretty expensive now, but you can cruise in style on the cheap with a late-60’s Galaxie 500. Finally, not much beats the style of a 1970 Ford Torino, especially for the money. Similar to Mustangs, you won’t get a Cobra Jet for a song, but you can score a nice V8-powered muscle car with plenty of style to go around without needing a second mortgage.
If you want one of the General’s products but can’t swing a Chevy, lucky for you there are at least four more brands of cars to choose from! With a few rare exceptions, full-size barges from Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac (BOP) and even Cadillac are tantalizing options for captaining your very own land yacht. Snag your best friend’s cousin’s ex-grandmother-in-law’s 1966 Coupe de Ville and cruise around like you own the place, whatever the place is. Keep it stock and have a rolling time machine, or slam it on bags and have a time rolling your machine. If a Caddy is too over the top for your taste, pick up an early 60’s Olds Starfire or a mid sixties Grand Prix for all of your crazy-looking taillight fantasies. You might even get lucky and find a Buick Wildcat with a factory dual-quad 425!
You can even grab a brother of Chevelle for your classic muscle fix! Being on a budget may mean you get a Skylark, Cutlass, or LeMans instead of GS, 442, or GTO – though deals are out there for the top-trim cars – but don’t let yourself believe base models aren’t cool too!
Certain classic Mopars (Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler) are notoriously expensive, but don’t be scared away from the whole brand by seven-figure sales of Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles or aero warriors with price tags higher than their wings. The ever-desirable E-Body Challengers and ‘Cudas have roots in the lowly A-Body Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant. Early Valiants have looks that are polarizing to say the least, but they are far less shocking starting with the 1963 model year. With the correct color and stance, the ‘67-and-up models can look downright menacing. The best deals are likely the mid-sixties models, where the LA series of small block V8s started as a miniscule 273 and was available in both the Dart and Valiant, as well as Plymouth’s first pony car – the Barracuda. While the 273 is not likely to be a ground pounder, the LA V8 was produced for almost forty years and is pretty easy to find in its largest stock displacement of 360 cubic inches. Most stock 360s aren’t exactly high performance, but aftermarket parts are readily available. Plus, you can buy a whole Dodge D250 for a couple grand or less and rob basically the whole drivetrain from it for your A-Body project.
If nothing listed so far tickles your fancy, think Mopar C-Body. The full-size Dodge Monacos, Chrysler Newports, and later Plymouth Furies don’t get the love that their smaller relatives do and are cheaper as a result. Parts are not common for these big bruisers, but driveline components are shared with the whole Mopar family. Plus, you’re a lot more likely to find a factory big block and heavy duty 727 Torqueflite than you are in the smaller cars. You may not beat much on the track, but you’re bound to draw attention at car shows and while rolling down the highway. Wide eyes and puzzled expressions will abound when you and your buddies cruise by like you’re Jake and Elwood. It may not have cop brakes and cop suspension, but that 440 will make you “remember that rumblin’ sound” like a young John Lee Pettimore growing up on Copperhead Road.
This is in no way an exhaustive list. Ford and Dodge trucks are consistently cheaper than comparable Chevy trucks. Most American Motors products are budget-friendly, and some have just as much power as expensive Chevelles and Camaros. Your options don’t have to stop within these United States of America. Cars like the Opel GT, Volkswagen Beetle, and any number of quirky old Saabs are reasonably priced, and get loads of attention. You may have to broaden your search area geographically, but there are still bargain options to be found for classic cars. Always remember to do your due diligence when looking at any car – especially a classic – and beware that things are usually cheap for a reason. Now, find your ride and crank up some Blues Brothers and Steve Earle.