We’re not here to argue what’s causing today’s kids to lose interest in cars—but gatekeeping and relentless preaching about what one needs to be to qualify as a real enthusiast probably isn’t helping.
On top of that, there’s a global craze for vintage cars among older generations, and even remotely-interesting automobiles are rapidly getting out of reach for the average young car lover looking for their first classic. Looking at how certain automobiles flatten the depreciation curve now, it seems we’re forever done with second hand cars that are attainable and fun.
The future might look grim, but not all is lost—there are still fun and underappreciated cars you can buy, blast out, and learn some things from while you’re keeping them on the road. As of now, it seems none of them will get any cheaper—so you’ll also secure yourself a drivable, enjoyable, blue chip investment.
Whether you’re simply a young enthusiast or an aspiring car collector on the other side of the screen, we’re happy you’re here. There is a place for you on the streets—and if, by chance, you still don’t know where to look, one of these modern classics might be worth considering!
#1: Mazda MX-5
There’s one particular scene from the 2012 movie Looper I keep returning to from time to time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character—Joe, a young hitman—uncovers a mint condition NA Mazda Miata, which he proceeds to drive around the apocalyptic version of future Kansas City.
Looper is by no means a car flick—nor does it pretend to be one—but this is one of the most accurate car scenes in recent film history, because the Miata will undoubtedly be a go-to collector car in the future.
The Miata ticks all the right boxes for a first classic car. First and foremost, it is cool and fun and it will hook you on driving. Next, it is affordable and relatively plentiful, meaning that you will easily find one that suits your needs and your budget (for now, at least). Next, it’s fairly simple, so you’ll learn to run it yourself. And finally, it has a huge community to help you with every obstacle you encounter and every upgrade you plan to make.
#2: Ford Mustang SN-95
While Generation X is reliving their childhood dreams by pumping up the prices of third-gen Mustangs, you can get your taste of a somewhat oldschool Fox Body through the fourth generation, built between 1993 and 2004. The SN-95 Mustang offers two distinct designs, two body styles, and quite a few engine options to suit every budget.
Depending on how retro you want it to be, your future Mustang can sport the original rounded design or a more streamlined New Edge facelift—and as far as engines go, the V8-powered GT is the one you should be after. Earlier models used an old school pushrod 302 V8, producing a healthy 215 horsepower, while cars built from 1996 onwards had a 4.6-liter Modular V8 with up to 225 ponies.
If or when you get bored of all-stock mechanics, you can also unlock new performance heights with a practically-endless array of aftermarket upgrades. And with aftermarket parts available for practically every budget, you’ll be able to keep tricking out your Mustang no matter how much you want (or don’t want) to spend.
#3: Mitsubishi Pajero
Owning a car is a ticket to freedom, but owning a classic off-roader takes that freedom one step further. In our recent pandemic-ridden times, it seems that everyone with some spare change wanted their own piece of freedom—and in a blink of an eye, the prices of overlanding vehicles jumped higher than Bitcoin.
There are still plenty of cars out there for you though—and one of them is the Mitsubishi Pajero, a rugged compact 4WD from times when four-wheel drive wasn’t just a gimmick and SUVs really were sporty and utilitarian. With a body-on-frame construction, selectable 4WD, and an optional locking rear differential, the second-gen Montero is a capable off-roader. Moreover, its rear seats can be folded into a bed—so make sure to find an example with a glass sunroof.
#4: BMW E46 3 Series
Generations that came before you got their fix of a BMW sports sedan and why shouldn’t you too? Leave the 02, the E30, and the E36 series to the boomers, Gen X-ers, and the millennials—and hop on to get the last traditional BMW 3 Series, the E46.
The M3 has gotten out of reach and it won’t get cheaper anytime soon (if ever), so what you’ll probably want to get is the ultimate non-M straight-six model, the 330. The venerable M54 found its way into all body styles: sedan, coupé, convertible, and even a wagon.
If you want something a bit more exotic, there’s also the all-wheel drive option, though this one will cost you more and will most likely be a facelift car. Whatever you choose, just remember that the 330i ZHP is not “basically an M3” and you’ll be all set.
#5: Porsche Boxster 986
The collector market has been actively pushing the Porsche 911 towards being unobtainable for so long that the once-unloved 996 even got caught up in the wave. With the front-engined 944 and it’s derivative 968 out of the picture too, your choice of 911 alternatives comes down to the original Boxster.
Yes, good examples are hard to come by, and they are priced higher than most cars on the list, but a well-cared-for 3.2-liter Boxster S will easily find a new owner, should you decide that it’s too much for you for whatever reason. On the other hand, if you find it a keeper, it will reward you with miles of open-top fun while being a solid long term investment, too.
#6: Subaru Impreza WRX
Whether it’s painted in the iconic blue with golden alloys or in any other shade, the Subaru Impreza WRX is an all-season, all-wheel-drive icon. The non-STi WRX is a more affordable alternative that still offers a lot of fun with the proven recipe of parallel all-wheel drive and a turbocharged four-piston boxer engine.
Unlike the WRX STi (which came only in sedan form), the WRX was also available as a wagon, and it’s totally up to you whether you want the original Bugeye fascia or one of two revisions, appropriately named Blobeye and Hawkeye. All three produce upwards of 200 horsepower and are notorious for their tuning potential, so you won’t go wrong with either.
#7: Ford Focus SVT
If you have a soft spot for underdogs and turn-of-the-millennium hot hatchbacks, we’ve got something for you. Offering a lot of bang for a few bucks, this spiced up Focus is a wildcard in the world of future classic cars. So what’s the deal with this one?
It has something to do with the naturally-aspirated 7200 RPM, 170 horsepower, 2.0-liter Zetec with a 6-speed manual transmission, but the appeal of this car isn’t just about having smooth power delivery and three pedals in the footwell. The way this SVT hatchback handles is what makes it truly amazing, especially considering the fact that it’s a 20-year-old car you can get for $4,000.
The secret is in this car’s Control Blade rear multilink suspension that made even the stock Focus responsive and engaging—let alone an SVT model where everything is turned up a notch. Unlike other Fords coming from the Special Vehicle Team, the Focus SVT is affordable and still under the radar, so you won’t feel bad modifying it if you decide to keep it.
#8: 1999–2000 Honda Civic Si
If your hot compact tastes are more traditional, well, then there’s just one car for you. The dealers have decided that the new Civic Type R is not for you by going wild with market adjustments (even for the Si model), but that doesn’t really matter, since you can be getting a sporty Honda for way less.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can import the EK9 Type R with its trusty 1.6-liter and rather potent 182 horsepower, but the 1999–2000 Civic Si is a safe bet. This one comes in 2-door coupé form, has a revvy 160 horsepower, a 1.6-liter VTEC inline four engine, and stiffer and more responsive suspension (among other upgrades). Just make sure to find an example as close to being in stock condition as possible, as that will get you away from all sorts of troubles.
#9: Jeep Wrangler
Some American classics transcend all generational divides, and the Jeep Wrangler has to be one of them. Like Levi’s 501 or Ray-Ban Aviators, the Wrangler has endured numerous changes throughout the decades, but has kept its original spirit and globally-iconic silhouette. The 4×4 Wrangler is a car for all seasons and all terrains: a weekend and daily driver, a beach car, and even a rugged camping companion.
The market offers a plethora of different Wranglers. The YJ and TJ models will get you a true old school Jeep experience, whereas the more modern JK is equally as fun if you can get over its interior. Whichever one you snatch, you’ll have an amazing start to your own Jeep journey.
#10: Any Car that Makes You Happy (No, Really)
In the end, it’s all about cars that put a smile on your face. As long as you can afford to run it responsibly, you can collect any car you want. Do you yearn for adventure? Buy an SUV that can go off-roading, a big wagon, or a people carrier for your mates!
All the cars on this list are too modern and you’re into proper old school classics? Get ’em while you can! Do you want a big and ambitious project? Do it! Be wise and persistent and you’ll get it on the road. Become ungovernable and buy an Aztek. Indulge yourself, zoomer!
The cars you save now will be the ones the next generation will enjoy. Of course, we old folks will silently judge you from a safe distance—but it is you who’ll shape the future of collector cars, so just get whatever gets your heart pumping and drive the hell out of it!