Muscle car advice, re: upkeep

I’m a prospective car buyer, and I’m rather enamored with the looks of older American muscle cars, like the 1970 Chevelle, the 1968 Mustang, and the like. My finances are rather limited, probably look to spend 8-10K. One of my major concerns is that maintenance, upkeep and repair will be prohibitively costly for these older cars ? can anyone speak to that issue? Are there specific models that hold up better over time? Many thank!

It depends on what you consider prohibitively costly. If you want a more reliable daily driver I’d look for one of these cars that is fairly stock. High performance components often do not hold up well in terms of endurance in day to day use. Also stock will cost less to repair. Also buy one that looks professionally maintained/restored. If you see a lot of stray wires and homemade fixes (duct tape and clothes hangers), keep looking. Another money saving aspect of these cars is that if you are much of a wrench turner at all, you can do most of your own repairs. The cost of maintaining a car is largely paying for somebody else to do the work. I’d say get one, but go over it with a fine tooth comb before you buy.

$8k-$10k isn’t going to buy a lot of vintage muscle car. You could end up with an example that runs but looks like it’s been to hell and back. Expect to spend around double or triple your budget to restore a car to decent (good, but not concours) condition. For a highly sought after model ( Chevelle SS, 1969 Charger, Fastback Mustang ,etc.) expect to spend well in excess of 40-50 grand when all is said and done. This is not a hobby for the faint of heart or light of wallet. Maintence and upkeep isn’t a big issue since spare parts are generally available and there’s nothing terrible complicated about these cars. Most people who have these cars don’t use them as daily drivers.

What work will you do? These cars require frequent, but not expensive, care (tune ups, oil changes, etc). Is this going to be your only car, or a hobby?

Also, looks only last until you sit down. These will be old cars, not much fun to drive for the prices you are considering. Have you driven one?

I’m glad to see a prospective car buyer who doesn’t limit his options to only late model or new cars. There’s over a century’s worth of automobiles to choose from.
American cars from the mid to late '60s are some pretty durable cars. I don’t know how knowledgeable you are on the subject, but the parts to build and maintain these cars are readily available, and more are being reproduced every year. Body panels, interiors, and trim pieces that weren’t available just a few years ago are being reintroduced for the more popular cars, and your choices of Chevelles and Mustangs definitely fall into that category.
As for maintenance, it’s been my experience that the drivetrains don’t go as long as a new car that can run 125,000 miles with nothing more than regular oil and filter changes. That being said, when things do start to fail, the older cars are cheaper to repair in almost every way. A small block Chevy crate motor for a Chevelle can be bought for less than $2,000. Try replacing the engine in a newer Chevy for that much. A Turbo 350 transmission, rebuilt, runs around $700 - $1,000, compared to several thousand $$ for any of the newer, electronic controlled overdrives. That brings to mind the fact that the older cars have none of the complexity of computers, not to mention the costs that go with them. Along with the simplicity of the older cars comes the fact that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to diagnose and repair them. That, again, will save money for someone who’s willing to do at least the basic maintenance required.
You can see I’m quite biased in favor of older American cars. They’re all I own, and I believe they’ve saved me thousands of $$ over the years… However, I will say your budget is on the low side for the cars you’re interested in. A '70 Chevelle, driveable and in good condition for under $10,000, will be a tough find. A Malibu is the same car, without the high performance options and may be a more affordable option for you. Six cylinder engines were available in most '60s cars, and the prices are considerably lower than any of the high performance engine options. Most of the cars were like that; a base model, and then the high performance version of the same car. If you don’t mind a four door car, those are always a lot cheaper than the same model with two doors.

If you have the skills to maintain them yourself, the cost is moderate. If you plan on having it professionally maintained, the costs could be back-breaking…

What you are going to find are cosmetic restorations with cobbled together underpinnings that tend to come unglued the first time you put your foot in it.

“Completely rebuilt by some guy in his back yard…” It all depends on who “some guy” is. Finding anything other than a parts car in your price range will be very difficult…

I lucked out with my 65 chevelle malibu. I did need a bunch of work done to it and still needed a few things fixed on it when I sold it last year. The biggest money saver was that the drivetrain and interior was in pretty good shape(minus the headliner falling down). Since I didn’t have to worry about interior, I could focus on the exterior parts that needed fixed up/replaced(try finding new sheet metal front fenders/trunk lid for a 64~65).
The 2bbl 283v8 with a powerglide tranny is probably your most durable combination in the older cars

edit: Make sure whatever you get has been “updated” to allow lead free gasoline to be ran in it