Everybody, it seems, has a story about how cheap cars were in the old days. From gently wrecked Ferraris, now worth millions (or tens of millions) of dollars that sold for the cost of a three-year old Corvette; or winged Mopars that dealers couldn’t discount deep enough to sell; or even Model As that were traded for a summer’s worth of lawn mowing, the glory days appear to be behind us.
Or maybe not. This installment of the $5,000 Challenge features a few driver-quality selections that, if preserved or restored, should appreciate in value in the coming years (or decades). While none has the lasting appeal or exclusivity of a Ferrari 250 GTO, none carries a comparable price tag, either, and as the supply of clean survivors gets depleted, the appeal of these cars will likely rise. Buy now, or kick yourself in ten years for passing up an opportunity.
Fox body Mustangs were once plentiful on used car lots from coast to coast, but today unaltered and well-preserved examples are getting harder and harder to find. Prices are going nowhere but up, which makes their buttoned-up, black-tie cousins, the Lincoln Mark VII LSC, all the more attractive. Before critics point out that the two cars have an entirely different focus (and personality), let me point out the similarities: Both shared a common platform, both were powered by a 5.0-liter (302-cu.in.) Windsor V-8 producing 225 horsepower and 300 pound feet of torque, and both had engines up front driving the rear wheels. No, a Mark VII even in LSC (for Luxury Sports Car) trim won’t clean up at the drag strip, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable as a weekend driver for most. For roughly 2/3 the price of a comparably clean, late production Fox body Mustang, this $4,990 Lincoln offers a lot to love.
In 1993, Pontiac introduced the fourth generation of the Firebird, which would (sadly) go on to be the last. Like their Camaro cousins, Firebirds of this generation have yet to become truly collectible, but as the supply dwindles, that may begin to change. For $4,600, the next owner of this 1995 Pontiac Trans Am will have an enjoyable and low-mileage weekend driver that requires a bit of cosmetic and interior work to make show worthy. There’s no guarantee that it will appreciate in value, but there’s no guarantee a 401K or IRA will, either, and at least you can drive the Poncho.
This NYPD livery Crown Vic already has an impressive screen resume, with claimed appearances in everything from commercials and television shows to feature films. The next owner can probably make money renting the Ford out for similar purposes, though the window of opportunity for this may be closing (only to reopen once the car becomes “vintage”). For $4,500 the next owner need just invest in a set of tires to have an interesting show car, though it would be advisable to check local laws before driving it on the street.
The Mercedes-Benz W126 bears the distinction of being both the best-selling and longest produced of the brand’s premium S-Class models. Built from 1979-’92, the W126 came with a wide array of engines, including high-performance 5.0 and 5.5-liter V-8s. The most popular model, however, came powered by a 3.0-liter inline six that was still good for 177 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque, like this example from the penultimate year of production. Yes, it’s racked up the miles over the years, but has reportedly been serviced by the selling dealership throughout its life. For $4,900, this S-Class may not be a blue chip investment, but it will likely deliver many more years of comfort and reliability, without fear of depreciation.
Based upon the civilian Jeep Gladiator and built from 1967-‘69, the Kaiser 715 series (including the 725 ambulance) replaced the aging Dodge M37 in military motor pools. Counting all variants, over 33,000 examples were produced, and many went on to equally hard lives after their days in uniform were done. This example, now wearing a maroon and white civilian livery, appears to be reasonably well-preserved and ready for conversion to a go-anywhere camper, back road work truck, or zombie apocalypse bug-out vehicle. As long as the driver isn’t in a particular hurry, these Jeeps will go just about anywhere, and after 48 years, any issues with the 231-cu.in Tornado inline six have long since been sorted. Compared to the price of a fixed bomb shelter, buying a mobile one for $3,000 could prove to be money well spent.