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Top 10 collector cars under $30,000

If spring turns a young man's fancy to thoughts of love, summer's the time for convertible tops down, radio up and a heavy foot on the throttle ... of a 30-year-old car.

The collector-car bug is biting more and more people who finally have the financial wherewithal to afford cars they coveted in their youth -- primarily Baby Boomers who came of driving age in the 1960s and early 1970s.

"This thing has really been growing,'' says Terry Lobzun, of RM Auctions, which runs two of the most prestigious collector-car auctions -- in Monterey, Calif., and Amelia Island, Fla. "There's just more interest in collector cars. In times of conflict, like the war in Iraq, people look for outlets. They also look to these cars because they remind them of better, simpler days."

Buyers of collector cars may also enjoy a benefit they cannot get when they buy a 2004 model: increasing value. While there's never a guarantee of profit with any investment, prices of collector cars -- loosely defined as certain cars and trucks built more than 30 years ago -- are rising between 5 percent and 15 percent annually.

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Compared to what the Dow has been doing lately, that sort of return can look very attractive. And that's not counting the added psychological value that investors can't get from shares of AT&T: The thrill of stepping on the gas pedal of a '68 Pontiac GTO convertible.

Choosing your collectible dream
Even if you've got the collector-car bug, you may be uncertain about what to buy. Of course, there are the cars considered the gold standard of the collector-car industry: most Ferraris built before 1973; certain 1965-1970 Corvettes with big V8 engines; 1963-1967 Shelby Cobras; and of course the truly classic cars such as the Duesenbergs, Auburns, Cords and pre-World War II Rolls-Royces.

But those cars carry price tags starting in the low six figures to well above $1 million. A 1963 Ferrari GTO will set you back a cool $7 million or more, so we'll confine this discussion to more realistic numbers, under $30,000. That ceiling pretty much rules out European cars, such as Austin-Healeys, Jaguars and Porsches, as well as American cars from the 1950s, such as the 1957 Chevy Bel Air. A '57 convertible, for example, recently sold for $90,000. The only Japanese cars with any real collector value are the 1966-1969 Datsun 1600-2000 roadster and the 1970 Datsun 240Z, but their appreciation has not been as significant as the American cars and so they don't rank among today's best investments.

If you're still interested in taking the plunge into the world of collector cars, here are the 10 best models with current values below $30,000 in pristine condition. There's no guarantee one of these cars will put your kids through college, but they should bring significantly more money five to 10 years down the road, along with very enjoyable driving experiences.

Terry Jackson is an automotive expert, journalist and author based in Florida. He is the former editor-in-chief of AMI Auto World Magazine and has written for dozens of publications, including Automobile, Road & Track and AutoWeek. He has penned six automotive books and evaluates more than 100 new cars each year.

 
 
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