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The $5,000 Challenge, something for (just about) everyone edition

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When it comes to cars, we all have our preferences and peculiarities. Some like big cars with plush suspensions, while others prefer small ones with nimble handling and/or fuel-efficient engines. Still others prefer trucks, and in some cases, the bigger, the better.

With an unlimited budget, such choices are easy enough to find, but cut the price cap back to $5,000, and it can be difficult to find an interesting vehicle at an affordable price. That’s what this edition of the $5,000 Challenge is all about, offering big and small, two doors and four, and even one suitable for the most ambitious trips to the local super center.

1988 Porsche 944

1988 Porsche 944

A wise man once said that the most expensive car is a cheap Porsche (or Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, etc.). Though that wisdom was likely applied to the 911, the same can hold true about the automaker’s transaxle cars, especially if the history is uncertain. This 944 was purchased by the current owner in 2014, then setup for use as a track day car, perhaps with the thought of building a full-on NASA competition car. Street legal, it’s said to be a fun daily driver with a decent 10-foot paint job. Afraid of using the leased ‘Vette or classic Mustang for a track day? This high-mileage, but mechanically sorted 944, priced at $4,900, sounds like a reasonable compromise.

1988 Porsche 944 1988 Porsche 944 1988 Porsche 944 1988 Porsche 944


1964 Ford Thunderbird

1964 Ford Thunderbird

Once, this Thunderbird was someone’s pride and joy. It isn’t clear why, but in 1984 it was parked in a Tampa, Florida garage and subsequently forgotten. On the plus side, indoor storage has left the car nearly rust-free, though the fact that it hasn’t been started since Ronald Reagan was president means it will take a bit of work to put it back on the road. The interior appears dirty, but otherwise reasonably intact, and the asking price of $1,950 makes it interesting enough that someone should be able to restore it to weekend driver status without breaking the bank.

1964 Ford Thunderbird 1964 Ford Thunderbird 1964 Ford Thunderbird 1964 Ford Thunderbird


1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue

1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue

Think the collector car hobby is only for the rich? For an asking price of $4,500, this top-of-the-line Electra comes ready to compete in local shows, or drive cross-country in the kind of comfort unimaginable in today’s family sedans. Factor in the two-owner history and low (41,000) mileage, and this easily gets our pick as the bargain of the bunch. If there’s a down side, the V-8 isn’t known for its stellar fuel efficiency, but frugal buyers can still enjoy the Buick’s lavish interior as a second living room. Chances are good the seats are more comfortable than your existing furniture.

1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue 1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue 1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue 1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue


1989 Plymouth Horizon America

1989 Plymouth Horizon

Volkswagen Rabbits have an equal number of fans and detractors, as do Toyota Corollas and Ford Pintos. Finding someone passionate about the Plymouth Horizon (Shelby versions of its sibling, the Dodge Omni, excluded) takes a bit more doing, since these sensible compacts seem to have faded into automotive obscurity. That’s a shame, since they really weren’t bad cars, and in our experience would run nearly forever with a minimal amount of upkeep (some, in fact, seemed to thrive on abuse). Spend the $2,995 asking price on this example, and you’re all but guaranteed to have the only one at the weekly cruise-in. It won’t cost you much for gas to get there, either.

1989 Plymouth Horizon 1989 Plymouth Horizon 1989 Plymouth Horizon 1989 Plymouth Horizon


1966 GMC Grain Dump

1966 GMC

Heavy-duty trucks in the $5,000 and under price category normally come with a laundry list of needed repairs, missing parts and inoperative systems. While the description on this $3,600 farm truck is vague, the seller states that it’s “straight, solid, tight,” and “runs, drives, stops and dumps great.” It’s got patina to spare, but very little rust, and the V-6 should be just about bulletproof and simple to repair. You can’t fit a hot tub in an F-150, but you won’t think twice about shopping Spa-a-Thon with this beast.

1966 GMC 1966 GMC 1966 GMC 1966 GMC