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The $5,000 Challenge, middle-class mashup edition

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Inexpensive and affordable are often two distinctly different things, particularly when it comes to entry-level collector cars. While it can be tempting to plunk down $5,000 on a well-worn sports or luxury car, such transactions don’t always end well for the buyer. The cost of repairing (or even maintaining) exotic beasts can be daunting, which is why the smart money is on more “middle-class” classic cars.

Each of the five selections below represents a car that a middle-class family may have purchased new. They’re sensible choices that wouldn’t have required a second mortgage to acquire or to keep on the road. The same can be said today, since all are affordable to purchase and restore to weekend driver or show-and-shine status. A few appear to be driver-quality cars already, making them well-suited to those new to the hobby with limited mechanical or bodywork skills.


1971 MG B

1971 MG B

When it comes to affordable and simple sports cars, it’s tough to beat the venerable MG B. Built from 1962-’80, the British convertibles proved immensely popular with U.S. buyers, and resources for their preservation abound, even today. Vendors can supply virtually any part needed, web forums can dispense useful information on repair and upkeep, and British car clubs exist from coast to coast if hands-on help is needed. This 1971 example sports the desirable chrome bumpers, preferred by many over the later oversized rubber bumpers. Fresh from an estate sale and not driven for the past six years, this car will need a bit of mechanical attention before it returns to the road. The rust in the sills should be dealt with soon as well, but for the right buyer, this MG B represents an enjoyable sports car at a budget-friendly asking price of $4,950.

1971 MG B 1971 MG B 1971 MG B 1971 MG B


1948 Nash Ambassador Super Brougham Coupe

1948 Nash Ambassador

Since its debut in 1932, the Ambassador model line topped Nash’s product range. While well-appointed, it was still priced more affordably than similar models from the competition. In 1948, the Nash Ambassador Super Brougham Coupe seen here would have carried a price of $1,858, roughly $200 cheaper than a comparable Oldsmobile and over $400 less than a similar Chrysler New Yorker or Buick Roadmaster. Though the description for this example is concise, the seller states that it runs good but has an interior in fair-to-poor condition. From the pictures provided, that’s an accurate assessment, and a seat cover of some sort will be needed until the next owner has time to properly address the upholstery and interior issues. We’d fix the rust in the trunk before it got any worse, but for the asking price of $3,500 this once-proud Nash could be a nice driver with a few weekends of work.

1948 Nash Ambassador 1948 Nash Ambassador 1948 Nash Ambassador 1948 Nash Ambassador


1965 Buick Electra 225 four-door sedan

1965 Buick Electra 225

In 1965, Buick was a solid brand choice for a middle-class family, and its upscale Electra 225 model was a sure way to let the neighbors know that things were going well at work. Even base models came well-appointed with power steering, power brakes, two-speed wipers, foam-padded seats in front and rear, and the ever-important front and rear ashtrays. The base engine was Buick’s Nailhead V-8, rated at 325 horsepower, though buyers with a need for speed could also opt for a V-8 fed by a pair of four-barrel carburetors and rated at 360 horsepower. This Nailhead-powered example is billed as a one-owner car that wintered in Arizona and was the recent recipient of $3,300 worth of mechanical attention. Priced at $4,950, it sounds like a nice driver that needs little more than a new owner’s name on the title.

1965 Buick Electra 225 1965 Buick Electra 225 1965 Buick Electra 225 1965 Buick Electra 225


1977 Ford LTD station wagon

1977 Ford LTD station wagon

Weekend hauler? Tow vehicle? Return to stock or continue to resto-mod? With this 1977 Ford LTD station wagon, the next owner’s choices are many. Vintage wagons are all the rage these days, so a case could certainly be made for returning this example to the original monochrome paint, whitewall tires on steel wheels with chrome wheel covers, and factory ride height. On the other hand, Ford built nearly 91,000 LTD wagons in 1977, so no one will get too upset if the buyer carries on with the resto-mod theme to make a unique tow vehicle and show car. In either case, you won’t lose this magnificent (and practical) beast in the parking lot, and chances are it will get a fair number of questions and smiles wherever it’s parked. The asking price? $4,995.

1977 Ford LTD station wagon 1977 Ford LTD station wagon 1977 Ford LTD station wagon 1977 Ford LTD station wagon


1985 Chrysler LeBaron

1985 Chrysler LeBaron

To some, this K-car based Chrysler LeBaron is already a collectible car; after all, it’s now 33 years old, and uncommon enough that one rarely sees them in traffic. To others, it’s a clean used car, albeit one that’s been well cared for by its past owners. Perhaps it’s the best of both worlds – a car practical enough to drive to work during the week, yet distinctive enough to take to shows on the weekend. It sounds as if the cosmetic issues are minor, and a belt change (or at least a spray of belt dressing) will address the lone mechanical issue raised. Love it or hate it, a decade from now we’ll be reminiscing  about the days when you could still get a clean mid-80s LeBaron for only $3,850.

1985 Chrysler LeBaron 1985 Chrysler LeBaron 1985 Chrysler LeBaron 1985 Chrysler LeBaron