1. Porsche 928
The first car on our list is a unique-looking German import packing a whole lot of power and somewhat of a bad reputation. Introduced in 1978, the Porsche 928 was initially intended to be a replacement for the company's well-known and much-loved 911. Shortly after development began, the company understandably scrapped the idea of ending production of the iconic 911 and instead focused on making the 928 a different breed of sports car than the 911 to appeal to new customers.
To start with, the Porsche engineers made the 928 a larger, heavier car, and to match, the power plant for the new Porsche was a newly developed, 4.5-liter front-mounted V-8 Engine producing 218 horsepower. As opposed to the sporty 911, most models were equipped with an automatic transmission instead of a manual. All in all, the 928 was designed to still have plenty of the precise handling that Porsche was famed for while being more practical and luxurious than the small and sometimes quirky 911.
While well-received during production, the 928 is now greatly overshadowed by its iconic, famous cousin, the 911. The body style looks more dated, due mostly to the pop-up lights and the fact that production ended in 1995 before recent memory, unlike the 911 which still runs to this day. The front-mounted, water-cooled engine is another presumed defect of the car as if a non-air-cooled engine mounted anywhere but the rear makes the car somewhat of a lesser Porsche. Nonsense. (Although some Porsche snobs will tell you exactly that).
All of these factors combine to drive prices of the 928 to ridiculous lows. A project that needs considerable work can run for under $2,000, while decent daily drivers can run you only slightly more, from about $4,000 and up. And $13,000 can buy you an excellently maintained, meticulous car with all service records. Good luck finding a 911 for that price: you might be able to buy a door or a set of wheels. At the very least, you'll probably be paying 35k for Porsche's flagship sports car from a comparable year. And while the 928 is by no means as recognizable as the 911, it is the most similar in terms of performance for about a $25,000 discount.
2. Triumph Spitfire
The second car on our list, while vastly different from the luxurious, powerful Porsche, is just as appealing, albeit for different reasons. While it might not be totally correct to call the Triumph Spitfire underappreciated, it definitely meets the criteria to be seen as undervalued as this car definitely has the largest price-to-fun ratio of any car on this list. The antithesis to huge, heavy, powerful American muscle cars of the 1970s, the Spitfire is a tiny convertible powered by a tiny four-cylinder engine that produced a whopping 45 horsepower in the early models and up to around 75 in later models. While you definitely won't win any races, the Spitfire is one of the most fun to drive due to its tiny size and open-top configuration. The 1500-pound car handles like a go-cart, and, with the convertible top down you'll be able to look up into the eyes of envious fellow motorists sitting 6 feet above you in their boring, modern cars. The Spitfire created the open-top motoring craze and left a legacy of fond memories as well as the Mazda Miata, which was designed to continue the British convertible tradition.
The best aspect of the Spit? A great daily driver can be yours for less than $3,000. A showroom condition Spitfire is rarely listed at more than $10,000, which makes this the most affordable car on the list. The Spitfire is also one of the simplest and easiest to work on cars, and parts are extremely affordable, making it a great choice for the DIY mechanic in training.
3. 1975-1980's Mercedes 450 SL
You must be thinking, "A classic Mercedes Roadster that I can buy without sacrificing my kid's college accounts and my left arm? Not a chance."
Wrong. Although I can see why you might think that.
As one of the most prestigious names in the automobile industry, many Mercedes have become classic collectibles and skyrocketed in price. And, as one of the more famous lines, the SL convertible (which roughly stands for "Sports Lightweight) should logically be a highly sought-after collector's item. Not so. Although some years and models, such as a 1969 Pagoda, will fetch exorbitant prices at auction, many 70's and 80's models are somewhat overlooked and can be had for a song.
The 450 SL, for example, can be had for under $10,000 in good to great condition. And with its powerful V-8 engine, it's no slouch on the open road, even 30-40 years after it was released. Add the option of a hard or soft top, and you've got yourself a great daily car for a great price.
4. Porsche 944
The fourth and final car on our list is another product of Stuttgart, Germany. Just like the 928, the 944 is overshadowed by its famous 911 cousin. Just like the 928, the 944 is sometimes looked down upon because the engine is in the front and is cooled by water, not air. But the peppy 4-cylinder 944 is an amazing car in its own right and every inch a Porsche. Introduced as a lower entry car in the lineup, the 944 was given a 4-cylinder, water-cooled engine mounted in the front of the car to reduce costs.
However, it is no slouch when it comes to performance as it is often viewed as one of the best handling cars of all time due to its near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. To accomplish this feat, Porsche placed the transmission in the rear of the car, one of the first manufacturers to do so. While approximately 150-200 horsepower doesn't sound like much, in a car as small and light as the 944, it does just fine. Few cars handle as well as the 944 on curvy roads, and with an EPA estimated 20-27 MPG, you can hit as many as possible. The hatchback adds practical storage space that, when added to the great miles per gallon, makes a marvelous, and unique daily driver. With the exception of turbo models, a decent example can be had for around $5,000. If you'd like the added power of a later model turbo 944, expect to pay closer to 10 or 12k as the rarity makes them more valuable.
What Do You Think?
What cars should be on this list? Are there any you disagree with?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Abraham Carson