5 best looking collectible cars under $15,000
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Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons was fond of the phrase “it doesn’t cost any more to make it pretty.” In the collector car world, however, pretty usually costs a bundle. Here are five happy exceptions, all designs that were loved when new and have been highly praised by critics over the years but don’t cost an arm and a leg yet:
1. 1976-89 BMW 6-series (630/633/635) — BMWs of the late 1960s through the late ’80s had what many think was the classic BMW “look,” with a shark-like forward-pointed nose and the famous Hoffmeister “kink” in the rear quarter window. The E24 six-series probably best exemplified that look. Styled under the supervision of master designer Paul Bracq with input from Bob Lutz, the car was simply timeless and lasted for 13 years, a virtual eternity in the car world. Yes, we guarantee that the cost of ownership will exceed that of a 1980s Camaro or Mustang, but you get what you pay for, and again, if you’re careful about the car you buy (there are plenty of neglected sixers out there waiting to rip a huge gash in your wallet) you should be OK. Look for the engineer or airline pilot’s car with every expense documented in a little ledger. I just looked at just such a car for a friend— 58,000 miles and every receipt saved. He passed to buy something else, but whoever was lucky enough to grab it got one fantastic car for only $11,000. Experts advise to avoid the troublesome U.S. version of the 630i with its primitive, pre-catalyst emission controls.
2. 1963-65 Buick Riviera —The Riv was originally pegged to be the car that re-introduced the junior Cadillac brand, La Salle. When that fell through, the GM divisions all clamored to get the car that design chief William Mitchell touted as a combination of Rolls-Royce and Ferrari. Hyperbole maybe, but the Riv was indeed gorgeous inside and out, and with Buick’s nailhead V-8 powering it, it was no slouch in the performance department. Great ones (particularly the 1965 high-performance GS model) have appreciated considerably of late, but respectable non-GS drivers are still reasonably common at $15,000 or less. We particularly like the ’65 with its unique hidden headlights.
3. 1996-03 Jaguar XK8 —The first-generation XK8 shared a platform with another one of the prettiest designs of the late 20th century, the Aston Martin DB7. Geoff Lawson penned a design that paid homage to the E-type of the early 1960s. The wood and leather interior was as gorgeous as the exterior. While not as sporty as the brilliant new F-type (it was based largely on the outgoing XJS from 1975), the XK8 was a pleasant driver that could embarrass a Corvette or two in supercharged XKR form. Unlike the indifferently assembled Jags of the 1970s and ’80s, XK8s weren’t a pack of trouble. The key to relatively painless ownership of an XK8 is to be very picky about the one you buy. There are plenty to choose from and most are relatively inexpensive. Pay more for a better car, especially in the semi-exotic world; the cheapest cars are usually the most expensive ones in the long run. All the usual caveats apply—a clean Carfax, low miles, one or two owners, service records and a pre-purchase inspection by someone familiar with Jaguars are all essential. Join the Jaguar Clubs of North America (JCNA), and go to the forums and chat rooms for help. We know multiple car people of normal means happily enjoying XK8s and not being nickled and dimed to death. It’s perhaps the most beautiful car you can buy for 10 grand.
4. 1967-68 Mercury Cougar —The Cougar was the twin of the first-generation Mustang. We’d have included a ’65-66 Mustang on this list, but sub-$15,000 examples are getting really scarce. In any event, the first-gen Cougar was a beautiful car in its own right with classic long hood/short rear deck proportions, neat hidden headlights, a great-looking interior and sequential tail lights that blinked in line to signal a turn. Unlike the Mustang, there was no six-cylinder stripper model. Only 289- and 390-ci V-8s were offered. Sadly, it was never this good for the Cougar again. After 1970, the car got progressively bigger and more gimmicky. If you look hard enough at this price point, you can still find an XR7 model with its beautiful European-inspired interior.
5. 1966-67 Oldsmobile Toronado —The original Toronado was so good that it’s natural to wonder how Oldsmobile lost its way so badly in the 1970s and ‘80s. Unlike so many of today’s designs, it looked like nothing else on the road and it would do a legitimate 135 mph. Reviews were off the charts. Motor Trend said in 1966: “Never in the history of the Car of the Year Award has the choice been so obvious. It’s perhaps the car of the decade and destined to become a classic in its own time.” The choice of the Toro is likely to annoy the front wheel-drive haters, but we’d wager that most of the haters have never experienced 385 hp driving the front wheels.