There's a reason why a vintage Porsche 911, Shelby Mustang GT350, or E-Type Jaguar will command sums greater than your mortgage. Not all cars are created equal, and as a general rule, time sorts out the brilliant automobiles from the rolling appliances in the form of the open market. Strangely, though, some cars slip through the proverbial cracks and go for prices ranging from reasonably affordable to dirt-freaking-cheap.
Here are just eight of those cars, all of which are seriously undervalued despite possessing the depth of character normally associated with vaunted classics.
1. Chevrolet Corvair Monza
General value today: $12,000
Why it should be more: The Corvair is one of the most unique American cars ever produced. With an air-cooled flat-six engine (turbocharged in later models) mounted in the back, it had more in common with the then-new Porsche 911 than contemporary American muscle cars. Chevy offered the Corvair in a variety of body styles, but the Corvair Monza is the muscle car-esque coupe that would’ve been a classic by now, if not for an all-time PR nightmare when Ralph Nader claimed that it was “unsafe at any speed.”
The NHTSA exists in part because of this car, but if you're interested in owning and driving a classic car, it’s a fine piece of machinery that by rights should fetch double what it does today.
2. Buick Reatta
General value today: $4,000-6,000 (coupe) or $13,000-15,000 (convertible)
Why it should be more: The oft-forgotten Buick is an outlier: it was a handbuilt two-seater designed to restore luster to the Buick name, and came with advanced features like a touchscreen dash... back in 1988. Today, there's a small but fervent group of Reatta fans that rally around the car and support each other when the need for parts arises, and there's even a Reatta-only salvage yard in Arizona that eerily stands as a memorial.
3. BMW E39 540iT M Tech
Year: 2003 only
General value today: $15,000-20,000
Why it should be more: The BMW 540 in the late 1990s and early 2000s is a pretty righteous potential classic in its own right, but the 540i Touring (that’s BMW-speak for station wagon) ups the uniqueness and coolness quotient exponentially. Add in the fact that only the 2003 M Tech received a M5-esque body kit from the factory along with a host of performance goodies, and you’ve got a legit, potentially collectible, and seriously quick, station wagon. With fewer than 300 brought into the U.S., this is as close as you’ll ever get to investing in a sure thing, if you’re lucky enough to find one for sale.
4. Volkswagen Corrado VR6/SLC
General value today: $3,000-5,000
Why it should be more: Nearly 200 hp under the hood in a car that weighs 2,800 lbs certainly isn’t bad -- in terms of power-to-weight ratio, the Corrado was nipping at the heels of the very first BMW M3. It was also a fine handling car that beautifully bridged the maturity gap between the Golf and the Jetta.
5. Studebaker Avanti
General value today: $20,000
Why it should be more: When it first debuted a couple of years before the Mustang, the Avanti was a state of the art V8 coupe with plenty of power, disc brakes to help slow things down, and seating for four. Its polarizing design is one that not many cars have rivaled before or since -- a feat made all the more impressive by an urban legend that it was sketched on a napkin during a flight. Sadly, the car debuted during a severely trying time for Studebaker, and less than 6,000 were made before the factory closed.
In a strange twist, the Avanti lived a very long second life after new owners purchased the rights. Those subsequent Avantis, produced until 2006, were merely a shadow of the real deal, and likely aren't undervalued -- however low that value may be -- but the original is a true American classic.
6. Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
General value today: $4-8,000
Why it should be more: It may have been Motor Trend's Car of the Year in 1987, but the Turbo Coupe was still Ford’s best kept secret of the mid-1980s. With power figures eventually approaching 200 hp from a turbocharged 2.3 liter four cylinder that was shared by the much more famous Mustang SVO, the top-of-the-line Thunderbird was both a more luxurious version of its Mustang counterpart, and an American answer to European grand tourers of the day. For 1987-88 only, the Turbo Coupe received unique bodywork that made it stand out from the lineup, and is still a brilliant example of the best of 1980s styling.
7. Porsche 914
General value today: $10,000-15,000
Why it should be more: The 914 was developed as a new entry-level sports car in the Porsche lineup beneath the 911, and also as a replacement for the VW Karmann Ghia. For those unfamiliar with it, the 914 is simply an oddly-shaped, forgotten Porsche. But to enthusiasts, the tiny 2,000-lb featherweight represents the pinnacle of well-balanced, lightweight, and low-powered sports cars.
8. First Generation (NA) Mazda Miata
General value today: $5,000
Why it should be more: Ask any car guy, and the Mazda Miata has been a classic since its inception, partly because it unabashedly takes its inspiration from classic British roadsters, but mostly because the well-balanced and super-light Miata is just so damn good. Still, with nearly a million MX-5 (Mazda Experiment project 5) Miatas on the road, the majority, sadly, are viewed pejoratively through a veil of cuteness.