There's no doubt that an old sports car can be fun. But if you ask people who own one, a sports car can occasionally feel like a full-time job. Keeping an old car running is hard, and finding parts can be even harder -- and incredibly expensive. Plus, many sporty cars depreciate quickly as buyers want the next best thing. So we've listed a few sports cars you can buy today that won't cost a fortune to purchase -- or own and maintain.
Initially hailed as the perfect sports car for combining driving pleasure with Japanese reliability, the Miata is an even better deal now. The reason is that early models -- before the car began adding weight and technology -- have reached the bottom of their depreciation curves and may even start gaining in value. They're not the fastest cars, but they're reliable and inexpensive to buy. And an early Miata wears an iconic shape like few other cars on the road.
While today's Porsches are complex cars filled with all the latest technology, the performance-oriented German brand's sports cars weren't always that way. If you go back to the air-cooled era -- basically any Porsche from model year 1998 or earlier -- you'll find simple technology and surprisingly reasonable repair bills. We'd caution against some models, such as a V8-powered 928, for their mechanical complexity. But most 1970s, 1980s and 1990s Porsche models are reliable, fun, easy to drive and, most important, unlikely to lose more value.
Muscle cars were big money just a few years ago. But prices have come down on most models, putting a good muscle car in reach for anyone who wants to spend $40,000 or less on a weekend vehicle. Parts are plentiful, and with the muscle car "bubble" already burst, it's unlikely that you'll lose much money on just about any muscle car. Sure, they won't handle like a modern vehicle, and they don't have the safety equipment. But if you want to stand out without spending big money, a muscle car is a safe choice.
Just a few short years ago, the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing was a pricey car, while its 190SL stablemate was just another used vehicle. These days, the 300SL's prices are stratospheric -- usually over $1 million. The 190SL can see $200,000 or more at auction. That likely means later Mercedes SL-Class models will see similar increases. Our suggestion: Get the biggest engine you can and go for ones in top condition. Prices are already starting to rise, especially for the Pagoda model from the mid-1960s and early 1970s. But if you find a good example of any older SL-Class, it's hard to believe you'll lose much money, especially if you stick to cars made before complicated electronics were added.
While some collectors caution against certain years of the Corvette (specifically, the C3 body of the 1970s and the C4 of the 1980s), it's hard to believe most Corvettes will lose considerable value in the coming years. Corvettes are also notoriously easy to work on, since they generally use parts from other General Motors models. While some Corvettes -- especially early ones -- can be pricey, with values approaching $100,000, many more recent models are bargains. We especially recommend the C5 Corvette (1997-2004), which offers modern performance and safety features at reasonable prices.
Most shoppers don't think of Honda as a sports-car manufacturer, but when the brand tries its hand at something, it rarely fails. That's especially true of the Honda S2000, a 2-door, 2-seat convertible made from 2000 to 2009. Early models have leveled off in value, which means you won't lose much in depreciation if you pick one up. And the S2000 is highly reliable, provided you choose one that hasn't been driven hard or damaged. For those reasons, it's hard to find faults with a used S2000 if you're looking for a reliable, exciting weekend car.
Final Thoughts: Get an Inspection
No matter which sports car you choose, we strongly recommend having a mechanic thoroughly inspect it before you sign the papers. That way, you can drive away knowing your wallet is safe from depreciation and costly maintenance items that could be lurking under the hood of virtually any used car.