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Classic cars conjure up the image of rich middle-aged men polishing their pride and joy on a Sunday morning before rolling it safely back into the garage. But while iconic cars of the ’80s are now prohibitively expensive, there’s a way to get a classic car outside your home for as little as $3,000 — the price of a couple of pairs of OFF-WHITE Jordan 1s.

The era to look to is the ’90s. While fashion is devouring everything from the era, the ’90s car scene is taking a little while to catch up, meaning there are still some great rides to be had for not a lot of money. And if you pick wisely — a BMW E30, for example — history shows that a car’s value can rise exponentially. When it’s time to sell, you might even make a profit — or break even at least.

Here’s how you do it.

1992 Saab 900 Turbo Convertible

Starting price: $5,000

Back in the late ’80s, rappers were still letting their lyrical prowess do the talking rather than thinking of words to rhyme with Bugatti and Murciélago. The greatest rapper of his generation, Rakim, would drive a black Saab 900 to the party and still move the crowd. He wasn’t the only one. In “Ease Back,” Ultramagnetic MCs rapped, “I bought a Saab, a 1990 Turbo / Shining, fog lights in the front / I’m by myself, no seats for a stunt / ’Cause I want it like that, I got it like that.”

Unbelievably, you can still pick up one of these Swedish icons for $5,000, and as they’re designed to drive through freezing Scandinavian expanses without a hitch, they’re as strong as tanks. Hardtops are sportier, but the convertible is so stylish and pretty it would be our pick — grab one soon before they rocket in value.

1994 Mercedes-Benz S500

Starting price: $5,000

Quite simply, the world had never seen a car like the Mercedes-Benz W140, and quite likely will never see one like it again. At its launch in 1991, potential buyers were presented with a monster car that would come to define a generation. It was more than five meters long, well over 4,000lbs, and featured every conceivable extra besides a SEGA Game Gear in the dashboard and a Nokia P4000 cellphone hanging off the key on a gold chain. 50 Cent bought one back when he was an emerging rapper. Princess Diana famously died in one.

The W140 was an attempt to see what was possible if you blank-checked a car in development. But by the end, it all got a bit too much, even for Mercedes-Benz. Later models were toned down, lower, and sleeker — it turned out not everyone wanted to look like a dictator parading around (former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is reported to have spent humanitarian relief funds on a fleet of Mercedes-Benz). But for those who did, there was always the Rolls Royce Phantom.

1991 Mazda MX-5

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Starting price: $4,000

Inspired by the flies-in-your-eyes British roadsters of the ’60s, Mazda, a fairly sensible Japanese mass producer, decided to make a modern version that had the contemporary benefit of not crumbling to a pile of rust at the faintest sound of thunder. The result would be the best-selling roadster of all time.

Arriving in 1989, the MX-5 combined a 1.6-liter (98-cubic-inch) four-cylinder engine with around 110 horsepower, an aluminum hood, and simple rear-drive to create a lightweight sports car that was a lot more fun than most exotica. If ever there was a stone-cold future classic, the MX-5 is it.

1994 Toyota Land Cruiser

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Starting price: $6,000

Nothing says both ’90s baller and United Nations relief worker like the J80 Toyota Land Cruiser, which was produced between 1990 and 1997. Less flashy than a Range Rover, more usable than a G-Wagon, and predating BMW and Mercedes-Benz’s attempts at a luxury SUV, the Land Cruiser is cool simply because it doesn’t try to be. In basic spec, these go-anywhere vehicles could be seen supplying aid in some of the world’s poorest countries, and in specced-up or even Lexus LX 450 versions (practically the same car), it showed your peers in the Bronx that you’d made it.

1996 Lexus LS 400

#Newshoes for my girl 💕 now to think about paint 👀#static

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Starting price: $4,500

Not many could get away with rhyming “Rolexes,” “Lexus,” and “Texas,” but Biggie did.

As well as the Nissan Pathfinder, the Notorious B.I.G. loved to reference his Lexus saloon in his tunes, as did plenty of other legit rappers in the ’90s. Was it all part of a clever marketing ploy by the Japanese Toyota offshoot? Probably — but it worked, making ultra-reliable cars with brown plastic dashboards synonymous with ’90s cool. Being Toyotas, these cars go on and on — their steering wheels just get shinier — and there are plenty still around. Unfortunately, they’re mostly unloved now and probably won’t be so plentiful for long.

1990 BMW E30 325i Convertible

Starting price: $5,500

It’s a surprise that one of the most perfectly proportioned cars ever made can be found for under six grand. The 2.5-liter (153-cubic-inch) straight-six engine is one of Munich’s finest, and that shape just gets more iconic with age. You could pull up anywhere in a polished E30 and look the business.

But beware: there are plenty of shabbily kept cars out there, lots of accident damage from rear-wheel drive exuberance, and lots of potentially big bills. Have patience, find that kindly retiree who’s getting rid of their old car for something nice and new, and you’ll never look back. We expect the E30 325i Convertible has a $20,000-to-$30,000 price tag in its future.

1992 Subaru SVX

Starting price: $5,000

Subaru didn’t always just specialize in rumbling rally cars with turbocharged engines tuned to within an inch of their lives. The SVX was the company’s stab at making a sports coupé that combined lusty performance with high levels of comfort.

It wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, with the cabins getting more plastic than your average dollar store and the engine a 230-horsepower flat-six that couldn’t hit 60mph in under seven seconds. However, with four-wheel-steer and four-wheel-drive, the SVX was a very capable cruiser in all conditions. The aircraft-inspired side windows are also pretty cool.

1994 Jaguar XJS Convertible

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Starting price: $6,500

The XJS has had the kind of career revival that ’80s action stars can only dream of. From the outset, the car failed to capture the spirit of its svelte forbear, the E-Type, and throughout its more than 20 years in production (and numerous tweaks and facelifts), it was lumbered with an image more prog rock than swinging ’60s.

As a consequence, prices hit rock bottom not so long ago, with running XJSs going for $1,000. But these days its low-slung lines mixed with faded macho cool make this, almost inexplicably, an extremely cool car. The list of things that could go wrong with an XJS is too long to list, but with many still in the careful hands of retirees, there are plenty of reassuring examples out there, too.

1994 Alfa Romeo 164

Starting price: $5,000

The Alfa 164 has those standard suspicions about build quality — but just look at it. It’s a beautiful mass of angles, squares, and oblongs inside and out, and all the better for it. Even the lower matte plastic body mounds, popular normally on off-roaders, is an intriguingly Italian touch. Throw in a 3.0-liter (183-cubic-inch) V6 that is one of the world’s greatest ever engines and you have a car that will stand out among all the tired E-Classes and 5-Series that kick around at this price-point.

1992 Cadillac Allanté

1992 Cadillac Allante #the_old_cars_

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Starting price: $3,000

Go to junkyards or scour the dregs of the classifieds and you can’t miss the Cadillac Allanté. It’s hard to believe these tired and unloved two-seater roadsters had a base price of $64,000 in the early ’90s, pitching it directly at the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. But underneath the chipped and faded paintwork is a car that, while not as advanced as the Benz, was arguably even more complicated to make.

The bodies were made in Italy by Pininfarina and flown in specially converted Boeing 747s to Detroit to have American V8s bolted into the front and, weirdly, connected to the front wheels only. The car had all sorts of tricks, like a suspension system that would vary stiffness at different speeds automatically and the industry’s first retractable radio antenna.

The trouble is, these things tended to break easily — and still do. That said, if you like the kind of squared-off style that was popular in Italy in the ’80s and ’90s coupled with American muscle, the Allanté is worth a look. There are still a few good ones out there for peanuts if you look hard enough.

1994 Ford Mustang

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Starting price: $5,000

Somewhere between Mustangs being cool and Mustangs being cool again was the fourth-generation Mustang, a bulbous thing that blended a kind of ’50s prediction of future transport with an extremely boring saloon. It sits too high on too-small wheels and has the authenticity of a Maori tattoo on a gap-year backpacker. But these cars are designed to be upgraded and can be brought up to speed easily. Plus they’re likely to rocket in value — these days the price of third-generation Mustangs is hitting $20,000 to $30,000 for models in non-concours condition.

1995 Mercedes-Benz SL500

Starting price: $5,500

The R129 Mercedes-Benz SL had a hard act to follow coming after the aging R107, which had gained iconic status since its launch in 1972. But as with its S-Class of the same era, Mercedes-Benz was prepared to throw the kitchen sink at a project just to prove it could make the best car in its class. In doing so, the Stuttgart company arguably lost sight of the model’s original Sportlich-Leicht (“Sports Lightweight”) concept, with a curb weight approaching 4,000lb that got steadily heavier on later models. But the SL is another car that doesn’t get old, it just gets better-looking, and if a car were ever to define an era through looks alone, this is it.

1992 Volkswagen Corrado G60

Starting price: $5,000

German cars of the ’80s and ’90s have gone from being unloved and badly modded to very, very big business faster than you can say “Vorsprung durch Technik” (“progress through technology,” in case you ever wondered). Are they an investment fad to be filed alongside Bitcoin, just a lot of hot air and speculation? Maybe ask the owner of a Corrado that recently went on sale in Canada with more than 41,000 miles on the clock and a near-$50,000 price tag.

Originally released in 1988, the Corrado was built to take on the likes of the Opel Calibra in Europe. Surefooted, with fun handling and coupled with advanced aerodynamics and a chunky silhouette, the Corrado was critically acclaimed at the time but is rarely spotted these days. The pick of its engines was the VR6 found in later models, but arguably the most interesting was the earlier 158-horsepower G60 supercharged straight-four.

There are still a few of these kicking around for reasonable money, but watch out for crashed and trashed VR6s that get sold on the rep of high-priced cars sold in mint condition. They could be more trouble than they’re worth.

  • Words: Ollie Stallwood
Words by Contributor
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