I am looking to buy an old car for cheap. I don’t want to buy a show-ready classic. I want one that runs but needs work. I have heard the this kind of car is pretty easy to work on. I am thinking specifically a 1980s Pontiac Trans Am with the 5.0 liter and the manual transmission. I have seen a few on Craigslist, and other sites like cars.com have like one, but does anyone know if there is a really solid source for this era of car?
I can tell you that most of them have been beaten into the pavement. Around here many of them were converted into dirt track race cars after being flogged to death on city streets. On the track they were flogged even more and eventually turned into scrap metal; not always voluntarily.
This era of Camaro and Trans Am has become more valuable so a decent example will not necessarily be cheap.
They are easy to work on but they’re also built cheap; especially with trim and interior parts.
If you buy a cheap example that needs a fair amount of interior and trim parts replaced you better pad the bank account because while the car may be cheap and the original parts cheaply made; the replacement parts will not be cheap.
Go to a site like Year One and start pricing carpet, seat covers, door panels, and so on. Ouch.
They even use a special bumper jack and if missing those are hard to find and $$$$.
EBay will likely have some and my advice is to buy one that is as nice as possible regarding body panels, trim, and interior.
Mechanical problems are not that expensive and be resolved without breaking the bank.
Hemmings Motor News is a great source for information on classic cars. For a cheap car you are looking in the right places. Just be mindful that a old car often means a lot of rust in critical places.
I’m not sure I’d describe those cars as ‘classics’. They have their fans, but to most people they are just old and crude. A friend had a Firebird of that era and it felt so junky (and his was in decent shape). The interior was full of shiny gray plastic that didn’t quite match and the various bits had huge gaps because nothing quite fit. The eighties were not a good decade for cars.
I owned a couple of Second Generation Camaros (close cousin of the Firebird) and a dealer I worked for back in the 80s used to take that era of Camaro and Firebird in trade all the time.
MarkM is right about the interior feeling junky.
It seems like every one of those cars that was traded in either had the driver side arm rest/door pull torn off or hanging by a single screw.
That was caused by the long doors getting out of whack due to wear on the door hinges and someone leveraging the arm rests off due to repeated slamming in an attempt to get the door to shut properly.
I think your expectation of finding a 30+ year old muscle car that’s cheap and runs reliably… and is safe (safe should be first on your list) is unrealistic. Any muscle car that age that’s running at all reliably will require a serious investment either up front or in restoration.
A few years ago one of these car restoration shows was restoring a 60’s Camaro. They first needed a body to start with. They eventually found one that was almost a pile of rust for $5,000. This pile of rust with no engine or transmission was selling for more then double what it sold for new back in the 60’s. They did a beautiful job replacing all the metal and restoring it to better then new for a nice auction price tag of $75,000.
Why doesn’t the OP just put classic car sales in their search engine Places like EBAY-Hemmings-AutoTrader Classics show up. Also try looking for classic Car auctions at least if you don’t purchase a car there you can see what the market is like. Besides the word cheap and classic car do not belong in the same paragraph .
It takes a lot of patience and a lot of luck. Just keep looking and you may find what you want. If you are in a hurry…you might get burned. Running a cheap or free ad might not hurt either.
To me the best way to buy a classic (which wouldn’t be a Firebird or Camero in my book) is to get one that someone has put considerable money and effort into restoring and gave up and now just wants to get rid of it. Preferably the hard and expensive work would be done and just needs finishing. There are very few that actually sell for what was put into them, except maybe a 58 Chevy Impala or something.
My local Barnes and Nobel bookstore stocks several periodicals in the magazine section that list classic cars for sale in the USA. Suggest to go there and sus them out one by one to discover which ones cover the type and year of cars that interest you. Even if you don’t find a car near enough to you to consider, you’ll get some good pricing info just by browsing through the ads.
Autabuy magazine usually has a good variety including 80’s cars. (http://www.autabuy.com/) or you can probably buy a copy from the magazine section of the local grocery store.
Some of the worst cars ever made were made between 1981 and 1989…They were all de-tuned emissions nightmares…feedback carburetors that NEVER worked right…1964 to 1974 is where you want to be…Try a nationwide search on craigslist and see what you can come up with…Also, many of these cars have clubs that maintain a web-site that have a classified section for members to buy and sell stuff including complete cars and '“project cars”.
@Caddyman I agree’ most experts say the peak year was 1968/69, before all the emission gear stated screwing up engine performance.
The only good thing about the 70s was the introduction of the rust perforation warrantees which significantly increased rust protection.
I was watching the Mecum auctions a few weeks ago. Might have been a rerun, but it was no more then a few months old. One of the cars was a 1984 Vette in MINT condition with less then 20k miles. It sold for $9,500.
Mike has it right…There is little interest or value in those '80s smogmobiles. You could buy an old 'Vette and replace it’s dated engine and transmission with a modern power-train if your states emissions laws will let you license it…But since the car is no longer “original” it’s value becomes very negotiable…You seldom can recover what you have it it…
You seldom can recover what you have it it…
Seldom? I think that’s optimistic. I often tell people that when working on a classic car, when the time comes to sell you can plan on recovering half the cost of the parts and none of the labor.
The lack of interest in third generation F bodys make them a much greater value than 60’s-70’s muscle cars. In my area there are several rust free attractive Trans Ams with new engines for sale for under $5,000.
I don’t have a problem with buying and old car for $5,000, spending a few thousand on repairs/improvements and enjoying the car for 5 years. I’m not interested in recovering anything, I’m way ahead of those who pay $60,000 for a Lexus and trade it for $35,000 after 5 years.
Yes BUT…most of the 80s-era cars used smogged versions of the same engines that kicked so much behind in the late 60’s/early 70’s. SBC/Windsor variants.
If you live where vintage cars are smog-exempt, you can have a hot rod, similar to a “golden era” car, at a fraction of the price.
I agree with ok4450’s opinion. If you’re intent on getting one of these, get the one with the best body you can, with little or no rust, and don’t worry about the engine. Engines are cheap to fix. Bodywork isn’t, and that’s a common mistake newcomers to the hobby make. I’ve seen it many times. They’ll tell me “Sure, it’s a little rusty, but it runs like a watch! I’ll just take it to the body shop and have them fix it up.” Then they get an estimate on the bodywork and paint, and suffer huge huge sticker shock. Engines are easy to fix. Rusty bodywork isn’t.