With numerous 1960s classic and muscle cars garnering six-figure bids at auction, it’s all too easy for an enthusiast with a modest budget to feel that a nicely restored vehicle is beyond reach. However, it is possible to get in on the action for a fraction of those six-figure bids. In fact, many such vehicles can be had for less than the cost of a modern sub-compact. Of course, a high-grade restoration will often bring a handsome premium over a project car. If you are willing to invest some effort in restoring the vehicle, the upfront investment is even more affordable.
In the 1960s, four major American automakers were building vehicles still coveted today: General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and American Motors. Let’s look at some of their 1960s models still available at reasonable cost a half-century later.
Ford Motor Company
The Mustang often gets much of the attention as other worthy Fords languish on the auction block. The Ford Fairlane is one example. In the mid-1960s, well-equipped Fairlanes were often entered in major races. Today, you can enjoy cruising the city streets and country roads in a Fairlane for less than $15,000. A late 60s Mercury Cougar features a simple grille and modernistic styling that turns heads even today. Like the Mustang of its day, it’s possible to get Cougars with big engines like the 390 or the 429.
The Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet powered by small-block V-8s offer truly affordable performance. Today, a number of large parts suppliers offer needed components for straightforward restorations. One interesting option is the 1964 Mercury Comet powered by a 289 cubic-inch V8. Despite the fact that fewer than 7,000 were built, they are still quite affordable.
The Cyclone, the performance version of the Comet, was popular on the drag racing circuit. Don Nicholson, driving a Cyclone powered by a 427 cubic-inch “high-riser” engine, was victorious in one match race after another. The stock engine was good for 615 horsepower, although Nicholson’s team coaxed it up into the 700-horsepower range. In 2013, Nicholson’s Cyclone fetched $410,000 at auction.
Mercury is credited with a special edition Monterey called the Marauder, which was produced from 1963 to 1965. It essentially was the big sister of the Ford Galaxie. The Marauder’s been overshadowed to a degree by the Galaxie, making it more affordable in many instances. Both vehicles featured the fastback roof that improved performance in NASCAR races. The body styling of the Marauder is different enough to cause onlooker to take a second look. The Ford Galaxie itself was produced throughout the 1960s. It arrived for the 1960 model year. Soon thereafter, all full-sized Fords became Galaxies. The scatback hardtop arrived in 1963. Early version of the Galaxie can get pricey, but late-60s versions are often quite affordable.
The Pontiac GTO arrived in 1964. Although it shares key components with the Chevrolet Chevelle SS, it does not fetch as much. Don’t ignore the fact that a GTO with a big block engine linked to a floor mounted four-speed manual can generate a hefty 360 horsepower. It’s possible to pick up a vintage GTO for well south of $30,000, saving thousands of dollars over a comparable Chevelle SS. At the same time, 1960s Camaros typically generate more of a buzz than comparably equipped Chevelles, so the Chevelle itself is often a worthy alternative.
If it’s good enough for Jay Leno, it might be good enough for an enthusiast on a budget, although Leno’s Yenko Stinger is a special version of the Corvair. Nonetheless, the second-generation Corvair featured styling reminiscent of some German and Italian sports cars of its day. The Corsa Coupe was one of the first American vehicles to benefit from turbocharging.
Unfortunately, the Corvair suffered from an image problem exacerbated by Ralph Nader’s book, “Unsafe At Any Speed.” However, in 1971, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) debunked many of Nader’s claims when it tested the Corvair, Plymouth Valiant and Ford Falcon among others. Whether the Corvair is still recovering from its one-time image problem or not, a nicely restored Corsa Coupe is represents a modest investment worth considering.
The Impala, Biscayne, LeSabre, Bel Air, Caprice, Bonneville and Grand Prix are all large-car variations worth considering. There are numerous engines to select from, all the way up to the 427 cubic inch Turbo Jet V8 and the 454 cubic-inch Turbo Jet V8. Any of these full-sized GM cars are capable of 385-390 horsepower when equipped with these high-end power plants.
The Dodge Charger is one of the quintessential muscle cars of its era. Consequently, nicely restored 1968-69 models are often pricey. However, many other 1960s vehicles from Chrysler show real potential as affordable classic and muscle cars, including the 1966-67 Dodge Charger. While nicely restored late 60s Chargers often cost $30,000 and up, it’s still possible to find earlier 1966 or 1967 models powered by a massive 440 or a four-barrel 383 for less than $20,000.
Alternatively, consider the Dodge Dart or the Plymouth Valiant, Duster or Barracuda. It’s often possible to locate one of the muscle car versions of these 1960s cars with 340, 383 or 440 engines. For a more modest option, consider a late-60s Dart with a slant-six or a 318.
If you are working with a budget in the $15,000 range, it’s possible to pick up a Dodge Polara convertible in decent condition. If you want to cruise the countryside in the summertime with the top down, consider this reasonably priced convertible. Plymouth’s version is the Fury, and a 1965 Sport Fury can be restored with mostly stock parts.
The first-generation AMC Javelin arrived in 1968. Although it will not be confused with a Mustang fastback of its era, the Javelin is still one great looking pony car. It’s a classic rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered car. Major automotive magazines hailed its arrival because of its styling, power and safety innovations. Although the base engine featured a modest 145 horsepower, the biggest engine was a 390 cubic-inch V8 capable of generating 315 horsepower and 425 pound-feet of torque. It could accelerate the Javelin from a standing start to 60 mph in about seven seconds. It was mated to either a four-speed manual of a floor-mounted automatic. The 343 cubic-inch V8 with a four-barrel carburetor was also very powerful, with a top speed of almost 120 mph.
Buying Affordable 1960s Classic and Muscle Cars
Despite the high prices that vintage Mustangs, Chargers and Corvettes bring, an enthusiast wanting to invest in a well-powered 1960s car has options across a broad price range. In many instances, drivetrains in the most popular vehicles are available in other models that are far more affordable. Those willing to invest in project cars can also invest in a vintage vehicle with a modest outlay upfront. However, it’s always important to research parts availability before taking the plunge. When parts are scarce, restoration costs may soar.
The good news is that it’s possible to get into an affordable classic or muscle car that will still excite you and your passengers out on the open road. Even for those with a modest budget, the dream of cruising the back roads this summer is alive and well.
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