In an earlier version of this drivel, I claimed that the classic sports cars market was unanimously getting stronger. After working in a vintage car shop for several months (which is also why I haven’t written a single word as of late), I know that I made an unfounded, incorrect claim. Alas, Ebay browsing isn’t a path to an all-encompassing market snapshot.
I’ve been advised that the Porsche craze is still alive and well, while classics that are “really nice” still enjoy considerable appreciation. Think highest-of-the-high-end and/or museum-quality condition. Meanwhile, the middle and lower tiers of the market have been sagging recently. Seeing as all my picks are decidedly lower tier, prices might be even more tempting right now.
Another note: I realized that every car I mention here is essentially from the same era, and that I’ve completely ignored anything older than 1982. Also, they possess a certain degree of, shall we say, quirk. Coincidentally, they all have pop-up headlights (which are the coolest things ever and anyone who disagrees will be banished to the shadow realm). I formally petition for a one-time ignorance/subjectivity provision.
In any case, allow me to proceed with car things. I humbly offer 3 of my favorite classic sports car steals on the market.
#1: Ferrari Mondial QV
Automotive dreams often contain mid-mounted Italian engines, gated shifters, and Prancing Horses. I present to you what is by far the most affordable way to achieve that dream, and what might be the best smiles-per-gallon value in the vintage sports car market.
The Mondial never enjoyed the admiration bestowed upon Ferrari’s other offerings, and that undue neglect has made it absurdly undervalued. Though there are 4 Mondial iterations, the QV (which stands for Quattrovalvole) offers the best combination of price and performance. Mint Mondial QVs can be bought for under $40,000, and occasionally even under $30,000. They look stunning in the flesh, and reviews from the time lauded their superb handling and sublime engine. Best of all, they were noted for their robust durability and easy (ahem, for a Ferrari) maintenance. Ignore the naysayers — the Mondial QV is marvelous.
#2: Porsche 944 Turbo
The words “classic Porsche” will most likely conjure up various fantasies involving 911s or 356s. Prices for Stuttgart’s air-cooled hero cars have gone through the roof — and perhaps because of that craze, less illustrious models have remained within reach for normal car nuts. My favorite among these is the 944 Turbo. First introduced in 1985, Porsche’s wizards took a chassis that earned Car and Driver’s “Best Handling Car in America” title and blessed it with boost. 944 Turbos from 1985 - 1987 received a 217hp turbo four, while Turbo S and post-1988 Turbos boasted 247hp, thanks to a larger turbine and engine mapping magic.
It’s no coincidence that 944s are often converted into dedicated track tools. For the street, however, any version of the 944 Turbo is sure to delight, what with its outstanding chassis and the giggly joys of forced induction. Depending on how ripe you’d like your specimen, a 944 Turbo could grace your garage from $10,000 to the low $30,000s.
My boss scoffs at the 944′s shape. I think it’s fantastic. I also admit to having eccentric taste. Whatever. Go drive a 944 Turbo.
#3: Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE
How's this for eccentric?
There are actually three generations of RX-7. The second and third generations — the FC and FD, respectively — are incredibly popular with the track, drift, and tuning communities. They are used, abused, and modified in very silly ways. Tragically, they’re often sacrificed upon the V8-swap altar. Once the meddlers get ahold of them, they generally go to shit. (No offense to the meddlers. I've done a fair amount of meddling in my day.)
Meanwhile, the first-gen FB flies under the radar at a dangerously persuasive price point. Produced in ‘84 and ‘85, the GSL-SE model is the one to have, with its fuel injected 13B rotary engine and upgraded suspension components. The 13B revved so smoothly that Mazda fitted a buzzer to warn drivers of impending redline.
No matter the generation, the RX-7 is a wonderful sports car. But the FB is just charmingly retro, and it’s the easiest version to find sans-meddling. Adding to its charm is the cost: all-original GSL-SEs rarely exceed $15,000.
Honorable Mention: NA Mazda Miata
I don’t need to say much here, but what I will say is that they’re unreasonably cheap. Well-worn Miatas routinely sell for around $3000, and factory-fresh cars don’t crest $10,000 unless they’re limited edition (which are edging nearer to true-classic status). My favorite is the first generation — the NA — because it’s the lightest, the simplest, and arguably the prettiest. Choice modifications make for an especially entertaining experience. Whether you want an affordable path to a track-day terror, or a dose of road-going rowdiness, you can’t go wrong with a Miata. Understand that you’ll have just a tad more power than a coffee grinder, but power was never the point of these anyway.
So there you have it: three undervalued, under-appreciated classic sports cars from three different countries (and a Miata). A final editing epiphany — considering their manufacturers’ other offerings, the Mondial and the 944 are sort of the oddballs of the lot. They’re weird. They’re the ugly ducklings in families known for stunning good looks.
All things considered, I like the oddballs.