With each passing day, car enthusiasts grow more and more impatient with the classic car market refusing to give our wallets a much-needed break.
For nearly three years now we’ve continually watched record after record shattered for some of the most celebrated cars ever engineered. With no end in sight, car enthusiasts are turning to more obscure and less-recognizable models in order to experience classic car ownership and the many joys it can bring.
Because for the majority of car enthusiasts, the idea of forking over an amount of money equivalent to that of a small house is financially and economically irresponsible. Lucky for you, we at HotCars developed a list of classic muscle cars fit for any budget.
These are five dream muscle cars and their more affordable alternatives that are almost as cool.
10 Dream Muscle Car: 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 – $70,000
Introduced in 1969 as an optional performance upgrade, the Mach 1 became an instant success despite joining a list of five other performance-oriented Mustangs, including the Boss 429 and GT500. Sporting virtually every V8 Ford offered at the time, the Mach 1 set itself apart from the pack through its radically revised exterior.
Featuring rear window louvers, matte black hoods, hood scoops, competition suspension, and a unique set of wheels and Goodyear tires, the Mach 1 quickly became known as the supercar for the masses.
Today, enthusiasts should expect to pay upwards of six figures for a numbers-matching car.
9 Almost As Cool: 1973 Toyota Celica GT – $22,000
Now, for those who have Mustang Mach 1 taste but don’t quite have Mustang Mach 1 money, we present the 1973 Toyota Celica GT.
Initially introduced in 1970 as a direct response to the Mustang and the rest of the pony car market, the Celica GT debuted in North America just a few short years later. Although it didn’t boast nearly the same engine displacement — and therefore horsepower — as the Mach 1 the Celica GT managed to carve out a section of North American consumers until the marque’s retirement in 2006.
Featuring half the cylinders and much fewer horsepower than the Mach 1, the Celica GT can be had in today’s market for around half that of the Mach 1. Expect to pay nearly $22,000 for clean, rust-free examples.
8 Dream Muscle Car: 1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Coupe – $400,000
Created in a time when 500 horsepower factory cars were not the norm, Chevy and the Corvette were altering the automotive industry and opening up the doors of their racing division to the public. In 1967, it was in the form of their legendary L88 engine.
Produced for a few short years, the L88 engine remains one of the most celebrated engines ever engineered for its revolutionary aluminum heads, which led to much success in endurance racing. Considered something of a secret menu item, the L88 managed to find its way into a few Corvettes thanks to its owners in the know.
Fudging the numbers from the factory, Chevrolet undersold the V8 option purposely by listing its factory specs a small margin above the L71 engine — therefore leading people to believe they were getting a similar performance package for less money.
The result led to fewer L88 Corvettes from the factory, which is why enthusiasts must fork over half a million dollars for a true example.
7 Almost As Cool: 1968 Opel GT – $17,000
But for the rest of us who reside within a normal part of the tax bracket, there’s the 1968 Opel GT.
Debuting in the 1965 Paris and Frankfurt Motor Shows as a styling exercise, the GT was often compared to the 1968 Corvette despite arriving nearly two years before the Chevy — although historians claim they both took their design cues from the 1965 Mako Shark Concept.
Dubbed the “baby Corvette,” the Opel GT is virtually considered half a ‘Vette when it comes to its inline-four engine, economically friendly emissions, and its small stature that allowed it to traverse the tiny streets of Metropolitan cities.
Selling over 100,000 in a few short years means no shortage of examples today and therefore commands as little as $7,000. Enthusiasts can expect to pay upwards of $20,000 for clean examples.
6 Dream Muscle Car: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS 396 – $75,000
Widely regarded as the best year for muscle and pony cars, 1969 saw some of the most iconic American cars ever built.
While automakers like Ford and Pontiac watched their glory years disappear in the rearview mirror as they struggled to retain their share of the market — Chevy and the redesigned Camaro stole the show.
Now offering a bevy of upgrades and option packages, those with enough foresight — and cash — saw a great future for the RS/SS 396.
Available with a handful of engines from the factory and a four-speed Muncie transmission, the Camaro quickly stole the throne from the Mustang and became America’s most popular car at the time. The results led to an exorbitant valuation for the Camaro in today’s market that can cross into six-figure territory for low mileage examples.
5 Almost As Cool: 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 – $35,000
During its heyday, manufacturers of the muscle car era also became known for their extensive badge engineering.
With most car manufacturers falling under the umbrella of the big three, it virtually meant enthusiasts could buy a Mustang with a Mercury badge, a Challenger with a Plymouth badge — and perhaps our favorite, a Camaro with a Pontiac badge.
After plans to produce the Pontiac Banshee in 1967 fell through as a result of GM’s fears of cannibalizing Corvette sales, Pontiac received the Firebird as a consolation prize.
Sharing the same F-body platform as the Camaro, Pontiac set itself apart with its iconic chrome bumper and the same hearty 400 engine that powered the Pontiac GTO. Even though this resulted in over 330 horsepower from the factory, it wasn’t enough to steal the Camaro’s crown and the Firebird went largely unrecognized — even in today’s market.
Which means you can now score a clean piece of muscle car history for well under $50,000 — a steal when compared to its Camaro cousin.
4 Dream Muscle Car: 1972 Ford Mustang Mach 1 – $27,000
Seen as the last of a dying breed, the 1972 Ford Mustang Mach 1 arrived months before automakers began shifting their designs toward more economical and environmentally-friendly queues thanks to the impending gas crisis of the ’70s.
Taking a massive popularity hit after dropping the 429 engine in 1971, the 1972 Mach 1 saw a handful of lackluster Ford V8s as their option. Nevertheless, Ford managed to move over 65,000 units that year — even when consumers were staring a gas shortage in the face.
Since it was never taken as seriously as its older Mach 1 brother, a clean second-generation can be had for as little as $10,000 but can quickly inflate to around $30,000 for clean examples.
3 Almost As Cool: 1973 Saab sonnet III – $10,000
After beginning production in the ’50s for the first generation of the Sonett, by the time the early ’70s rolled around, imported cars were being taken much more seriously as consumers wanted well-designed cars with real-world application — that didn’t include getting five miles to the gallon like with most muscle cars.
Known as a competent SCCA racer, the Saab Sonett carved out a specific section of the North American market despite lackluster sales figures. Powered by Ford’s V4 engine, the mighty Sonett produced a mere 65 horsepower but achieved racing success thanks to its lightweight design and agility in the corners.
Even though there aren’t many examples left in the world, a lack of appreciation in the classic car market means you can have a piece of Swedish history for less than $10,000.
2 Dream Muscle Car: 1967 Shelby 427 Cobra – $1.3 Million
Although Carroll Shelby didn’t invent hot-rodding in America, he sure came to define the meaning in the ’60s after repurposing old British roadsters into the Shelby Cobra we know and love today.
After personally writing to AC himself, Shelby asked the carmaker to build him an Ace capable of housing a V8 engine — which AC reluctantly agreed to after discontinuing the engine that powered it. Once securing the altered roadster, Shelby found himself in a tough spot after Chevrolet declined to white label engines for Shelby, due to fears of stealing sales from the Corvette.
Thankfully, the Deuce and the Blue Oval supplied Shelby with Ford’s V8 — creating one of the most successful racing divisions of all-time. Which of course results in bloated values for the two-door roadster, which now regularly reaches seven figures during auction.
1 Almost As Cool: 1965 Superperformance MKIII – $75,000
But as with any arrival of iconic classic cars and ballooning values, replicas and kit cars are all that’s left for us regular folk.
Fortunately, the good folks at Superperformance created a modern-day Shelby Cobra for a fraction of the cost. Which allows enthusiasts to enjoy the car for what it’s meant for — driving. Boasting a 351, 427, or 460 engine depending on your taste, Superperformance continues the hand-built mantra started by Shelby in his Venice Beach garage with truly stunning results.
With brand-new examples of the MKIII leaving the factory for just under $100,000, enthusiasts with smaller budgets can turn to the used car market and find examples as low as $60,000 — with lower mileage cars hovering around $75,000.