It’s been an odd winter at Hemmings Vermont headquarters. After suffering through a deep freeze in January, it looked like winter was coming to an end ahead of schedule in February – and then came March. We’re on Nor’easter number three at the moment, with number four already stepping on deck for next week. In other words, March hasn’t been particularly friendly to automotive projects, at least for those of us with unheated garages and unreasonable expectations of comfort.
We are, of course, thinking ahead to warmer weather and the quality wrenching time it brings. For those in need of a new automotive obsession, we bring you five fresh selections in this edition of the $5,000 Challenge, including a trio of convertibles (at least two of which could be ready for summer driving). Which would you most want in the shop for the longer (and warmer) days ahead?
For its second generation, Mercury’s Cougar focused more on luxury and less on performance than its predecessor. By 1973, the final year of second-gen Cougar production, big-block engines were a thing of the past, leaving the 351 Cleveland (with 168 hp) or the 351 Cobra Jet (with 264 hp) as the only engine choices. The 1973 Cougar convertible would also carry the distinction of being Ford’s last drop-top in the 1970s. This example has reportedly been sitting for the better part of a decade, and will need some sorting before it’s returned to the road. That bad news aside, the seller advises that just 20,000 miles have been put on a drivetrain rebuilt in 1991, and the paint applied in 1995 still looks decent. At an asking price of $3,750, is this big cat for you?
Built from 1971 – ’73 in two-door coupe, four-door hardtop, and two-door convertible body styles, Buick’s Centurion replaced the Wildcat as the division’s mid-line full-size car. Powered by a choice of 455-cu.in. V-8s, even the more conservative offering produced 315 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, more than enough to get this family-sized ragtop underway with all due haste. The seller describes the Buick as rust-free, with a reupholstered front seat that was part of a restoration effort never completed. With a bit of cleaning and sorting, it appears this magnificent beast would make a suitable weekend driver or a solid candidate for a more comprehensive restoration. The asking price? $4,500.
Produced from 1953-’55, the MG TF was an update of the earlier TD roadster, featuring headlamps integrated into front fenders, an angled radiator, and a higher-output version of the 1.25-liter XPAG four-cylinder engine that produced 57.5 hp instead of the TD’s 54 hp. Caught in mid-restoration, this example can best be described as “assembly required,” though it appears as if all the important parts have been gathered in anticipation of a build never accomplished. While the effort required to get this classic British sports car back on the road may be high, the asking price of $3,500 reflects this, and for the MG aficionado with the right skill set (and a large enough garage), this could represent the bargain of the year.
“Sensible” would be a good descriptor of this third-generation Plymouth Valiant, both when it appeared on a new-car showroom floor 46 years ago, and as an affordable entry into the collector car hobby today. With the 225-cu.in slant six mated to an automatic transmission, this sedan won’t be winning many quarter-mile contests, but it will be affordable to insure and maintain, and it’s a great way for those new to the mysteries of internal combustion to learn necessary wrenching skills. As for cosmetics, we’d want to make sure the rust didn’t get any worse, and enjoy this time-capsule snapshot of suburban America in the mid-1970s. The asking price? $4,995.
AMC had plans to launch a restyled Rambler American for the 1961 model year, so to make the outgoing American models more appealing in 1960, a range-topping “Custom” line was added. In addition to fancier trim, Custom models received a 125 hp version of the Rambler’s 195.6-cu.in. inline six, instead of the American’s usual 90 hp six. Relatively few Custom models were sold, perhaps due to their late introduction, and of these, the rarest body style is the two-door wagon, of which just 1,430 were built. Chances are you’ll never run into another one at a show-and-shine, which certainly adds to the appeal of this example. Rarity aside, the retired Rambler will require a new interior, a carburetor rebuild and a transmission seal (or two) to be a driver-quality car, though we’d want to address the few rust spots and shoot a fresh coat of paint as well. The asking price? $4,900.