HomeThe MarketDrive a classic, and for $5,000 or less

Drive a classic, and for $5,000 or less


So you’re looking for classic cars under $5,000. You’re probably wondering what type of vehicle you’ll get for that price.

My first thought when issued this challenge was that there are lots of early year Mazda Miatas out there for $3,500 to $4,500, and those Miatas were — and still are — a hoot and a half to drive.

But then I remembered that it was less than two years ago that a friend paid $9,000 for just such a car, so perhaps my thinking was outdated.

I started looking through the cars under $5,000 category of advertisements on ClassicCars.com and discovered that was, indeed, the case. Apparently, it’s been a few years since many of those early Mazda sports cars were gobbled up and turned into Spec Miata racers.

Nowadays, owners of early Miatas expect to be paid $8,000 to $13,000 for those vehicles, so you might need to dig deeper into your pocket or purse.

Scrolling through what’s available for $5 grand or less, I did see plenty of “project” vehicles, but if you buy one, you’ll need plenty of tools and mechanical skills to get your purchase into running condition.

If your budget truly is $5,000 and you want something you actually can drive immediately, your options are limited.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to consider something other than a car.

Say what?

We’ll come back to that, but first let’s look at the cars under $5,000 that are available, be they classics or future classics.

Classic cars under $5,000 | ClassicCars.com Journal
1972 MGB

I found a few MGBs, a truly classic British sports car, advertised in that price range on ClassicCars.com (though you’re more likely to pay closer to $10,000 — if not a lot more). But there are a lot of them from which to select for $5K or less, and it’s likely that almost any mid-sized community in the country has someone who is skilled at keeping these nimble little vehicles in running order.

Classic cars under $5,000 | ClassicCars.com Journal
1975 Volkswagen Beetle

Another option is a Volkswagen Beetle — not the fancy New Beetle but the original Bug with its engine in the rear. Eliminating one that was in pieces, I found a dozen such vehicles — including three Karman Ghia coupes, a Van and a Vanagon advertised on ClassicCars.com at less than $5,000. Again, pretty much anywhere you live, there’s a local garage that specializes on working on these vehicles if you need help.

Classic cars under $5,000 | ClassicCars.com
1974 Cadillac coupe

I wasn’t surprised at the MGBs and VWs available, but I was stunned by the number of Cadillacs in this price range. Turns out the cars you couldn’t afford in the ’60s, ’70 , ’80 and even ’90 are plentiful and inexpensive these days.

Sure, some are “projects,” but many of them appear to be ready for cruisin’. It may be that they were owned by folks now aged — or gone — who no longer are driving, but who left behind something they cared for and cherished.

I expected vintage pickup trucks and Jeeps to be an option, and they are available, but a word of caution: such vehicles may have been rode hard and put away wet, as the horsey set says. Good news, however, is that parts for such vehicles likely are available at your local auto parts store.

Classic cars under $5,000 | ClassicCars.com Journal
1980 Honda motorcycle

OK, now for those sub-$5,000 vehicles that aren’t cars: Consider spending your money on a vintage motorcycle or farm tractor. And, yes, I’m being serious.

A vintage motorcycle not only can be ridden, there are a growing number of shows just for such vehicles, and very often classic car cruise-ins welcome vintage bikes as well.

Classic cars under $5,000 | ClassicCars.com Journal
1939 Ford 2N

Vintage farm tractors are another option, and a growing category among vehicle collectors. They aren’t fast, but they have a raw mechanical and sculptural appeal and can attract a curious crowd at shows, or at your town’s holiday or high school homecoming. They also are practical for everything from pulling a float to doing chores in your back 40, or large garden.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. You make a good point if you are the type that can leave a vehicle alone. Years ago I bought a very serviceable 1954 Chevy pickup and drove it for years mostly as is and then the bug bit me now $50,000.00 later it is much different. I was a farm boy and the ownership of a tractor is appealing but they a are hard to drive to shows.

  2. Watch any Mecum Gone Farmin auctions and you’ll find fully restored wonderful tractors for under $5000 all day long… If I had the yard I’d be on that in a second… cool old school pleasure
    and amazingly affordable fun.


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