European classics are some of the most expensive cars on the planet, leaving little room for your average Joe collector to enjoy the best rides previous generations have to offer.
Passing over some rarer models, you’ll be surprised to find some awesome cars for less than a mid-range Mustang, including some exotics you might not expect to be affordable. The best hunting ground are big-name auction sites. They attract hundreds of sellers and buyers alike. If you hold your nerve and bid cautiously, you might just drive away in a bargain.
Older Ferraris and Porsches can be had for under $50k. Widening your search, mass-produced classics are where the real bargains are to be found. The cheapest “classic” on this list coming in at $6,000, ready to fun, and packing European chic styling guaranteed to turn heads.
Still mulling over a European classic on a tight budget? Here are 10 awesome cars regular people can buy.
10 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL
More a cruiser than a sports car, the Mercedes SL (R107) is more affordable than you might expect. Mid-range 380 SLs in mint condition are more common than you might think, and surprisingly practical, too. Mercedes offered original buyers hard and soft-top options without robbing valuable trunk space.
A timeless icon teaming with street cred, one still able to draw admiring glances today reflecting its once prestigious position among celebrities and VIPs alike. Why the 380 SL 3.8-liter V8? Mercedes smaller, later engines used an all-alloy construction method, lighter and cheaper to run, producing a respectable 200 hp.
9 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Convertible
Recycling done right, Volkswagen pulled off possibly the biggest re-engineering projects in automotive history. Turning to Carrozzeria Ghia for the iconic roadsters styling, Karmann takes care of build and assembly. Volkswagens input? Aside from funding, everything you see beyond the gorgeous visuals, that’s a bug.
Beetle-turned coupe/roadster, Karmann’s Ghia is a distant relative of Volkswagens Type 1, in turn loosely related to Porsches 356. Oddly, VW Beetles of the same era attract higher prices. A Karmann Ghia can be had easily for under $20k. Robust, if slightly asthmatic VW flat-four engines produce up to 50 hp in later 1.6-liter-engined cars.
8 Lotus Turbo Esprit
Taking the plunge with something altogether more exciting, the first-generation turbocharged Esprits, with their sleek wedge-shaped profiles and awe-inspiring handling, is hard to beat. Lotus doesn’t enjoy the best reputation for build quality, but given the fiberglass body atop a galvanized steel backbone chassis, maintenance issues should be minimal.
S3 Turbo Esprits are equipped with 2.2-liter slant four engines rated at 210 hp and could top 150 mph. Produced between 1979 and 1981, Turbo Esprits appeared in various special editions, adding to their desirability without impacting prices too heavily. The “Investor Edition” shown here sold for $31,000 at auction.
7 Volvo P1800
Ghia-inspired styling and the star of the ’60s TV show The Saint, Volvo’s P1800 coupe showed the world that Sweden’s biggest carmaker didn’t just build boring family cars. First produced in 1961, UK-based Jensen assembled the first P1800s, production moving to Sweden from 1963 onwards.
Offered in coupe or sports estate (wagon), Volvo’s ’60s hero is popular with collectors for several reasons, not least its good looks. Under the hood, 1.7/2-liter inline fours produced up to 125 hp by the end of production, with a reliability record second to none, one example clocking 3.2 million miles.
6 Jensen Healey ($6k)
The UK-based Jensen’s other sports car. While the Interceptor is the one most gearheads hanker after, the Healey combined simple race-proven build with lightweight alloy engines earning a place between Triumph’s TR6 and Jaguar’s E-Type.
Simple to-repair, bolt-on panels over a unitary steel monocoque chassis fitted with Lotus Type 907 four-cylinder engines. A perfect 50:50 weight distribution and 144 hp yielded a sub-eight second spring to 60 mph, topping out at 119 mph. Easily the most numerous Jensen models produced, 10,500+ cars help to keep prices low. The Healey is the cheapest classic featured here and can easily be had for under $10,000.
5 Jaguar Mk. II
Back when Jaguar built the best-looking cars, fast ones too. The Mk.II earned itself a reputation on both sides of the law as fast, comfortable, and agile. Speed came courtesy of Jaguar’s race-winning XK I6 motor, initially 2.4-liter and 120 hp, growing in size matching the E-type’s 3.8-liter form, detuned to 220 hp.
Jaguar ceased production in late 1967, the last truly successful midsize sedan made by the UK carmaker, despite trying to cash in on the Mk.IIs curves with the ill-fated S-type of 1999. Overlooked, for the most part, E-Types grabbing the limelight, Mk.IIs are cheaper than you might think. Mint-restored items hover around the $50,000 mark.
4 Porsche 911 T
Original Porsche cars are easily the prettier cars, 911 T’s devoid of the myriad of fins, wings, and add-ons that sprung up from the 930 Turbo onwards. So, an early 911, air-cooled flat-six engine and little else to spoil the driving experience, with enough grunt to be fast without stepping over the rear drive chassis’ limits.
With power versus performance ideals in mind; Porsche equipped the 911 T with a 2-liter naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine cranking out 123 hp, propelling its 2250 lb mass to a top speed of 124 mph.
3 Lotus Carlton
GM spending power paired with Lotus engineering expertise resulted in one of the most intriguing classic sports sedans ever made. Lotus transformed Opel/Vauxhall’s everyday mid-sized executive Carlton sedan into the fastest four-door, four-seater of the early ’90s.
Despite the world’s fastest sedan tag, supercar baiting 177 mph performance, 377 hp turbocharged engines, and limited production numbers, the Carlton is decidedly undervalued. One example recently sold for under $50,000.
2 Ferrari Dino 308 GT4
Ferrari or Dino? Depending on the year, both. Ferrari in later production attempting to boost sales dropped Dino branding in favor of the prancing horse. The biggest issue for Ferrari’s baby, many gearheads looked down upon it as not a proper Ferrari.
Dino, the name of Enzo Ferrari’s son, led to a cheaper range of Ferrari road cars, the 308 GT4 styled by Bertone powered by the same 2.9-liter V8 engine as the 308 GTB. Extra seats and badging issues aside, the 308 GT4 is a potent sports car, boasting 250 hp and could top 155 mph. Image issues are good news for classic car fans; the 308 GT4 badging woes make this one of the best value classic Ferraris around. Auction prices start from $40,000.
1 Audi Ur Quattro ($50k)
Turbochargers, all-wheel-drive, and enough race wins under its belt to make every carmaker jealous. Audis Ur Quattro changed performance cars for good. Front-mounted 2.2-liter five-cylinder engines sent 217 hp, and 210 lb-ft of torque to all four corners; wheel spin was a thing of the past. Quattro hitting 60 mph in 6.3-seconds.
In recent years, Quattro’s legendary pedigree has made collectors take note. Used values are on the increase, and budgeting about $40,000 as a starting point should stand you in good stead.
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