Classic cars are becoming increasingly sought after, not just as an investment, but for the satisfying emotional payoff from working on a ruined example of your dream vintage car and getting it to concourse standard. Few things in life make gearheads happier.
But the sad reality is that classic car restoration takes years of work in some cases and costs a heap of money. Even the realistic purchases require plenty of both, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and shouldn’t be attempted.
So, we’ve put together a list of vintage cars that could be considered reasonably attainable for restoration purposes. To make it realistic, we’ve also avoided the obvious examples that had multimillion-dollar sales at auctions, such as the Ferrari 250 GT0 – the most expensive Ferrari ever sold at an auction.
10 Volkswagen Samba Bus
Volkswagen has already begun full-scale production of its ID. Buzz, which could well be the coolest van on the market right now, given that it acts as a modern reincarnation of the historic Samba Bus. But that also means that people are becoming more interested in purchasing an original version, and while we agree that they are fabulous cars, be wary of the costs associated.
This is an even bigger consideration if you opt for the earlier 23-window versions, which come with extended sunroofs, massive pivot doors, and a bunch of cool trim features all around. The number of components that will need restoring makes this a sizable job, particularly because of the rarity of the skylight glass for the 23-window versions.
9 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 LT1 (Second Generation)
The second-gen Camaro is a special car. A reworked engine and body shape over its predecessor, combined with the new lifters, bigger valves, and aluminum pistons, made it genuinely fun to drive. It certainly looked the part, too, particularly thanks to the 108-inch wheelbase. Some say it’s one of the best restomod project cars around, and while that may be true, you’ll need deep pockets.
The Chevrolet Camaro second generation is also still purchasable for around $20k, but while that might not give cause for concern, remember that this is essentially a 50-year-old muscle car with hugely outdated mechanics that was sold in quite a few numbers. So, the likelihood if you buy one is that you’ll need to do some form of restoration, which certainly won’t be cheap for a car like this.
8 Aston Martin Lagonda
While its looks may divide opinion, there’s no doubt that the Aston Martin Lagonda’s interior was too cool for its time. Given that it was built to take the British luxury carmaker into a new age of success, the Lagonda was packed with opulence both internally and externally. But this is also the root of the problem for would-be restorers.
It is so advanced for a car of its age, the parts required to restore it will probably cost an arm and a leg themselves. However, the likelihood of any Lagonda you do come across needing a major restoration is slim, given how rare they are. But if you can come across one that’s going for a low price because work needs to be put into it, and you’ve got the money to both buy and restore it, an Aston Martin Lagonda may prove too tempting an offer to ignore.
7 Dodge Challenger R/T (First Generation)
If someone says to you that the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T is the best muscle cruiser, you’d find it pretty difficult to argue with them. Currently, these are floating just north of $100,000, which is a lot of money for looking cool. It’s worth remembering that the original Challengers are not great cars to drive, and suit a relaxed lifestyle much more.
Given that Mopars tend to generally be more expensive to restore than your average muscle cars, on top of the fact that parts for this era of Challenger are hard to come by, and you begin to understand just why it’s so difficult to restore them. A great car, but it may be more headache than it’s worth if substantial work is required.
6 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala (Third Generation)
This is arguably the biggest project to undertake of any on this list. Pretty much all gearheads love the Chevrolet Bel Air – how can you not? It looks incredible and has such a personality about it, and given the fact that the third generations are well over 60 years old now, they attract huge amounts of attention.
That’s where the good news stops, however, because that carefully sculpted body and extended wheelbase means a lot of time and resources will be needed to mold an abandoned one back into a roadworthy state. Interior work for cars of this age will also be painful, especially if you’re after the original leather and stitching.
5 Pontiac Trans Am SD-455
A truly brilliant car that is only looking better with age, which is why we believe every gearhead should drive a 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans AM. Better still, getting your hands on an SD-455, of which only 252 Super Duty examples were made, would be an even bigger win. Price estimates are difficult given their rarity, but they’re not impossible to find.
The real struggle would be with restoring it, however, since most of its electrical and mechanical components are now either outdated or circulating in such small amounts that a restoration may take several months of planning alone. It was praised for its strong cylinder block and four-bolt main bearings, so ensuring the engine is in good stead is of paramount importance. If you haven’t figured it out yourself yet, none of this will come cheap.
4 Mercedes-Benz 600
If you’re ever sat there wondering how much a 1972 Mercedes 600 Pullman costs, be ready to have your hopes and dreams squashed unless you’ve got multiple zeros in your bank account. It’s an expensive enough car, but restoring one that’s in bad condition is an even more stressful job. What else would you expect from a car that was built for royals?
But if you had the funds and the patience to pull this restoration off, you’d be in elite company alongside Queen Elizabeth II and Jack Nicholson as the owner of a Mercedes-Benz 600. Remember how giddy Jeremy Clarkson got over his one in the ‘Grosser vs. Corniche: Old Car Challenge’ episode? That tells you everything you need to know.
3 Plymouth Superbird
1970 Plymouth Superbird values are climbing, there’s absolutely no getting around that. It remains one of the most instantly recognizable silhouettes in American muscle car history, not least because of that massive rear wing. Only 2,000 were made, so getting your hands on one will be a challenge in itself.
If you manage to find an example, and depending on the condition it’s in, you could spend as much as several hundred thousand dollars restoring it meticulously. That’s not just the pretty bodywork, remember, because, after years of either being used or kept in a garage, mechanical gremlins will no doubt be knocking.
2 Ford Mustang Boss 351
A car that has few haters, the original Ford Mustang Boss 351 is only getting rarer by the year, given that only 1,806 were ever made. That’s also the reason why one of our digital artists created an unofficial modern reboot of the Ford Mustang Boss 351 — perhaps that’s the easiest way to get your hands on one?
If you do stumble across an original, they’ll likely be going for anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000. Mustangs from this era are also not known for their reliability, so it’s almost guaranteed that some sort of restoration will be required if you were to take ownership of one. Expect the initial outlay to be matched on restoring it because these rarified Boss 351s are not cheap to bring back to life.
1 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C2)
How cool are the early Corvettes? It’s not that the modern generations aren’t, but be honest with yourself: they don’t hold a candle to the swagger and attitude that oozes from the earlier versions. Finding the C2 Chevrolet Corvette of your dreams will be tough, and the task becomes even more strenuous when you realize how much work has to go into restoration.
The main reason is due to its actual design, since its chassis and shortened wheelbase mean tracking down suitable parts is not easy. If you do manage to get yourself a sought-after 1963 model, which was the year that included the desirable rear split window, your restoration journey will likely cost more than what you paid for the car itself.