Photos by Huw Evans and Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
Everybody’s heard the Duesy in a barn story. Tucked away, forgotten, there it was, underneath a grungy tarp, bird dung and countless layers of dust – an original Shelby Cobra or GT350. And best part of all, it belonged to the little old lady’s husband and she just thought it was an old car, so you scooped it up on the cheap. Today, given the explosion in high-end classic car “dealers,” big auctions and everybody seemingly asking a mint for a rusty hulk in their backyard, just because it’s old; means that it can often seen there are no more deals to be had when it comes to classic Ford Machinery. But you’d be wrong.
If you spend some time looking through the classifieds of this magazine, on the AutoTrader.com website, or even attending swap meets, you’ll actually find that there are still a healthy number of bargains out there and given the current state of the economy, if you have a bit of money tucked away, now’s the time to start looking, much as it was for muscle cars back in the ’70s and early ’80s. In this article, we’ve picked 11 classic Ford vehicles, built between 1965 and 1998 that we feel offer a great blend of style, individuality, performance and some cases, surprising practicality. And yet, a solid, running example of each can still be parked in your driveway for $6,000 or less. For each listed vehicle, we’ve added a price range, for what we consider a solid driveable example, though be aware it is just a guideline and prices can vary by much greater amounts depending on supply or demand at a particular time. Do you agree with our choices – or we out lunch with this selection of alternative Ford classics? We’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
1967-1972 Ford F-100
Why not start things off with a truck? If you want just about anything with big-cube power from the late ’60s these days, it usually costs a pretty penny, but the 1967 vintage F-100 truck is an exception. Compared to its 1961-1966 predecessors, it was a much more modern design, with slab sided contours and better interior ergonomics. From 1968, two-wheel drive versions adopted Ford’s I-beam coil front suspension, which did wonders for ride and handling. Although new on the outside, in the mechanical department much was carried over, including the basic frame design, brakes and engines and transmissions. Base engines in these trucks were a 240 cubic inch inline six, though a bigger 300-ci version was also offered. At launch, V8 engine options comprised a trio of FE series big-blocks, workhorse units – in the shape of a 352, 360 and 390. The 352 was replaced by a 302 as the base V8 engine beginning in 1968, but the others continued until the end of production in 1972. During the truck’s production run, a number of special trim and option packages were offered, the Camper Special, Contractor’s Special, Explorer Special, Farm and Ranch Special and a Heavy Duty Special. Simple, rugged construction, ease of maintenance and available big-cube engines, have made these trucks a favorite of collectors for years, much like the contemporary 1967-1972 Chevy ½ tons. Much easier to work on and restore than their older counterparts, especially when it comes to sheetmetal replacement, it’s still possible to find a nice, solid example for well under $6,000 and there are plenty of sources for finding replacement parts, including aftermarket companies like LMC and National Parts Depot.
Thumbs up: Tough, simple to work on, good aftermarket support
Thumbs down: Ride, basic interiors, styling not to everybody’s taste
Price range: $3,500-plus
1966-1969 Ford Falcon
When it debuted as a 1960 model, Ford’s new compact Falcon was a sales smash. Although about as Spartan as you could get, it didn’t take long for the marketing folks to start adding options and flash. By 1965, the Falcon had matured into a range of little cars; that ranged from practical to downright sporty, thanks to the V8 equipped Sprint hardtop and convertible. For 1966, the Falcon was redesigned, loosing both the hardtop and convertible body style. Styling was also a bit more formal, part of the reason these cars don’t attract anywhere near as much collector interest as the 1964-1965 cars. Having said that, they still feature the same mechanicals and although trim parts are harder to find, you can still have a lot of fun with them. Although 170 and 200 cid sixes were the entry level engines in these cars, many came with 289 and 302 (from ’68) V8s, so it’s easy to drop in a nice hot motor. Furthermore, the two-door pillared sedan is very light (according to factory records, shipping weight was just over 2,500 pounds). Imagine the sleeper you could build? Also considering these cars aren’t as popular as their predecessors, owning one is a surefire way of standing apart from a herd of 1963-1965 cars at Ford events. Another thing to bear in mind that the Australian version of this car, coded XD-XY formed the basis for some of the hottest Fords ever sold down under, including the formidable 1971-1972 GT H.O. Phase III. Considering the popularity of these Falcons in that part of the world, there’s no reason why you can’t build an Amero/Aussie muscle hybrid. How cool would that be?
Thumbs up: Cheaper than 1964-1965 cars, good performance potential, light weight
Thumbs down: Dowdy styling, no convertible option
Price Range: $3,500-plus
1967-1971 Ford Thunderbird
Like our Falcon above, the 1967-1971 Thunderbird is another car that’s long been shunned by mainstream collectors. Part of the reason no doubt, was the lack of a convertible during these years and a presence of a four-door Landau sedan with suicide rear doors (the only factory T-Bird sedan ever offered). Like many personal luxury cruisers of the time, the 1967-1971 Thunderbirds are big, heavy cars, sporting many neo-classical styling touches, such as vinyl tops, fake “Irons” on the quarter-panels, and prominent simulated wire wheel covers. For 1970, the nose was redesigned, bearing a strong Pontiac beak-like influence, which continued until the end of production in 1971. Engine options are one reason you might want to consider one of these cars – in 1967 the base motor was a 390 FE big-block with 275 hp or 315 hp with a four-barrel carburetor. Two 427s were actually listed as options that year, the 410 hp W code and even 425 hp R code, though this author has never seen an R-code ’67 T-Bird. Ford’s FE torque monster, the 428 was a popular option however, rated at 345 hp in “Thunderbird Special,” tune and perfect for pulling along these 4,000 pound-plus cruisers. For 1969 the new 385 series 429 Thunder Jet V8, shared with that year’s big Fords and Mercurys, replaced the 427/428 as the optional engine and remained available through the end of production. Although the styling hasn’t aged particularly well, these cars are nicer to drive than the outsized 1972-1976 models and although the two-door hardtop is arguably the prettier body style, the Landau sedan will get people talking at shows. At present, it’s still possible to find a very nice, original example for sale at the $6,000 mark or less, if you know where to look.
Thumbs up: Big cube power for not much money, nice ride, still affordable
Thumbs down: Thirst, weight, over-the-top styling, four-door has marginal interest
Price range: $3,500-plus
1970-1971 Ford Fairlane/Torino
Now this is a strange one. As far as we’re concerned, the 1970-1971 Fairlane and Torino have all the right credentials to make them a winner, snazzy fastback styling, a plethora of engine options, including the fearsome 429 Cobra Jet, good ride and decent handling for such a large car (the wheelbase is 117 inches, marking it as one of the largest of all intermediates). But for some reason, current asking prices aren’t anywhere near the stratospheric levels of comparable GM and Mopar muscle. Perhaps chalk that up to a reputation for early rusting and poor quality control, plus an aftermarket parts situation that’s no where near as robust as its smaller Mustang cousin, but in our opinion, the 1970-1971 Fairlane/Torino has a lot going for it. Standard front disc brakes and swoopy styling – even the two-door pillared coupe and four-doors look cool, it makes for a great muscle era alternative, plus many of these cars came equipped with the 351 Windsor and a healthy number also got the high performance 351 Cleveland V8s. And because they’re not considered that desirable, many sellers aren’t usually asking for an arm and a leg. During our research for this story, we found two in this very magazine going for around our $6,000 ceiling price including a two-door pillared coupe with a worked 351 Cleveland. During another search, we also found a solid 1970 Torino Cobra hardtop, with an original 429, for which the owner was asking a shade over six large. Musclecar bargain? We definitely think so.
Thumbs up: Great engine selection, cool styling, not as expensive as many rivals
Thumbs down: Prone to rusting, size, limited aftermarket support compared with Mustang
Price range: $4,500-plus
1971-73 Ford Mustang hardtop
There aren’t a lot of Mustangs on our list. But we feel one that deserves mention is the 1971-1973 version. At the time of their introduction, they followed a logical theme of longer, lower and wider, but with the onset of the first OPEC energy crises, they seemed like dinosaurs, out of step with changing buyer tastes. Today they are just as polarizing as they ever were, but the exaggerated shape, with the long hood, gently sweeping flanks and Kamm-style tail holds a certain appeal. Although they are around 300 to 400 pounds heavier than a comparable 1970 Mustang and outward visibility isn’t particularly great, these big Mustangs actually ride and handle better than their predecessors, even in stock form. Compared to most other cars on this list, the 1971-1973 Mustangs also enjoy much greater aftermarket support, via companies like California Mustang, Larry’s Thunderbird and Mustang parts, National Parts Depot, so that alone might be one reason to consider one of these cars, even if it does need a bit of help. Although the muscle-engined Mach 1s and Boss 351s go for serious money – $35k plus in many cases – you can still find a decent hardtop from this era for $6,000 or less. With an engine bay that will accommodate virtually any size V8 (the 429 was listed as an option for ’71), these cars also make a good starting point for a street machine and with the trend in ’70s customs apparently making a comeback; there are a lot worse places you could start for building such a project. Picture it, a 1971 Mustang coupe, with a worked 351 Cleveland, three-inch exhaust, rear spring shackles and bigger and little tires wrapped around Cragar S/S or Ansen 15-inch mags. Throw in a period color like gold, yellow or bronze and you’ve got yourself a unique, period car, one that’s both entertaining and fast.
Thumbs up: Capacious engine bays, lots of upgrade and restoration parts available
Thumbs down: Size, weight, poor outward visibility
Price Range: $4,500-plus
Now here’s something different. We thought we’d include this car because it’s starting to gain greater collector interest on this side of the pond and in many respects represents a baby Mustang. The Capri, built in Britain and Germany and primarily aimed at the European market was introduced in 1969, based on the best selling Cortina/Taunus sedan, but featuring a snazzy two-door coupe body with a long hood and short rear deck. Much like the larger Mustang, it employed conventional suspension, front MacPherson struts and leaf-sprung live axle; plus came with a range of Cortina and larger Zephyr/Zodiac engines and transmissions. In 1970, Lincoln-Mercury dealers in North America began selling a federalized version of the German built Capri, though it was never actually badged as a Mercury. In North American trim, the car came equipped with 1.6-liter overhead valve “Kent” four-cylinder engine, mated to a four-speed manual gearbox. A 2.0-liter single overhead cam arrived the following year and from late 1972 onwards, the 2.6-liter “Cologne” V6 was also optional. In its day the Capri was a fairly well built, peppy little car, fun to drive, if a bit tail happy, especially with the V6. It also proved very popular and became one of the best selling imported cars in the United States during the early ’70s. The last year for the original Mk I Capri in North America was 1974, but after a redesign in Europe for ’75, the second generation turned up on these shores as a ’76 model. The new car boasted more modern, fluid styling, with a lift-up rear hatch for added practicality. Engines were a 2.3-liter overhead cam four, or a larger, 2.8 liter version of the “Cologne” V6. A rising Deutschmark however, resulted in steadily climbing prices, thus by 1977 Ford could no longer justify importing the car and North American sales ended (the Capri itself, badged as a Ford in Europe, got a major facelift the following year, and lasted all the way until 1986). Capris have long had an enthusiast following across the pond and have a reputation of being tough simple cars, with plenty of performance potential, though early examples are a bit rust prone. The V6 versions in particular are quick little cars and done right, make an interesting and sportier alternative to many ’70s Japanese coupes and even the Mustang II/Maverick. Plus, they’re still relatively cheap – a decent one can be yours for $3,500, if you can find it.
Price Range: $1,800-$5,000
Thumbs up: Mustang in a smaller package, good performance (V6), decent handling
Thumbs down: Relative obscurity in North America; parts supply, rust prone inner structure
1974-1978 Ford Mustang II
It’s the car some of us love to hate, but those who are quick to judge the Mustang II have likely never owned, nor driven one. There’s no denying that its 1974 introduction could not have been better timed. With an impressive 385,000 examples sold in the first year, there’s no question that it kept the pony car spirit alive during some dark and difficult times. Yes it was small, but it featured such amenities as standard front disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, plus a very well designed front suspension and subframe. In fact the Mustang II front clip was so good, that many cars gave up their lives for hot rod projects, simply for the subframe and front suspension. Out of the entire production run, the first year 1974 models tend to attract the least amount of interest, partly because their lack of a V8 and somewhat glacial performance. The 1976-1978 Cobra II and 1978 King Cobra are perhaps a bit on the gaudy side, but ’70s style is making a comeback and these cars aren’t viewed as tasteless as they once were. In addition, the 302 V8 that was available in all Mustang IIs beginning in 1975 responds well to hop up parts. A short wheelbase and relatively light weight can make a hot rodded II a fun little car, capable of embarrassing older vehicles, both in a straight line and through the turns. The biggest problem is that aside from the engine, parts can be hard to find for these cars and even today there’s precious little aftermarket support. That said Mustang II enthusiasts are a tight-knit and highly resourceful group of individuals. If you decide to take the plunge, chances are you’ll be able to get plenty of help with your next project. From our mind, the best buy is a 1976-1977 Cobra II with the V8. You can still find these cars well within our $6,000 price range, though sometimes it can take a while to come across a good one.
Thumbs up: Horse of a different color, still peppy with the V8, great suspension
Thumbs down: Styling, factory performance, parts supply
Price range: $3,000-$6,000
1977-1979 Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar XR-7
In recent years, the 1972-1976 Torinos have grown in popularity, no doubt helped by the Starksy & Hutch TV show and more recently, the Clint Eastwood flick, Gran Torino. As a result prices have started to climb, but if you want the same credentials, but under a different name, why not considered the 1977-1979 Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar XR-7. They’re built off the same platform and so use a separate frame, all-coil suspension and came with a choice of 302, 351 and 400 V8s. T-birds of this era are among the best selling of all, with over 300,000 built per year in 1977-1978 and over 280,000 in 1979. Cougar XR-7 production was slightly lower – in the 150,000 range per annum, but still; that makes them relatively plentiful, even today. It also means the survivors don’t cost the earth. For around $4,000, you should be able to net yourself a decent, driveable example. Admittedly the styling is a bit of an acquired taste for some, but with a resurgence in all things ’70s the baroque embellishments on these cars, in our mind don’t actually look that bad, plus you’re sure to stand out amid a fleet of genericars. The Thunderbird offered a T-roof option for the 1978 and 1979 model years, a bonus if you like that “wind in the hair” motoring experience. From a mechanical standpoint, what works on Torinos works on these, so it’s possible to squeeze in a big 460 or even a Cleveland V8 if you can find one, the same goes for fitting dual exhausts, stouter springs and even a 9-inch rear. So even though they might not offer a great amount of factory performance, all the basic ingredients are there to make a nice street or even street/strip cruiser. If you do buy one of these cars however, make sure you find the most complete specimen you can, as exterior parts and interior trim is very hard to find, big swap meets like Hershey and Carlisle are your best bet.
Thumbs up: True ’70s cruisers, full frame, heavy-duty driveline
Thumbs down: Styling a bit opulent for some tastes, trim very hard to find, low power factory engines
Price range: $3,500-$6,000
1979-1986 Mercury Capri
Have you noticed the increase in price in good Fox-body Mustangs lately? In particular, it seems that the 1987-1993 cars, the ones that haven’t been flogged to death or turned into street machines, are fetching close to five figures and we’re not just talking SVT Cobras. For that reason, why not have a look at the Fox Mustang’s Mercury twin, the 1979-1986 Capri. Unlike the Mustang it only came as a three-door hatchback (though a limited run of ASC McLaren two-seat convertibles were built from 1983-1986). It was built in far fewer numbers, particularly during the last years of production (1985-1986), which means it can be hard to find a good one, but this relative obscurity means survivors tend to go for less than comparable Mustangs. Mechanically it’s identical to the Fox Ford, so features the same engine and transmission choices, along with the suspension and brakes. The 1985-1986 versions were offered with the beefy tires, and the roller cam V8 offered in the Mustang GT and LX 5.0, which made them sprightly performers. The Capri also has a more aggressive look to it, with a vertical nose, bulging fenders and on post ’83 cars, that bubble back window. Although you’re on your own when it comes to finding replacement sheetmetal and exterior trim (save the doors), just about everything else, bar the steering wheel boss and in some cases wheels, is shared with the 1979-1986 Mustangs, so finding replacement parts isn’t that difficult. And in terms of hot rod parts, the same stuff applies; bolting on a supercharger, turbo, upgrading the suspension is straightforward and pretty cheap all things considered. And just think that while you might be able to outrun many cars on the street and even the dragstrip or road course, you’ll be doing it with a car that’s just a little different from the average Mustang.
Thumbs up: True ’80s muscle car (5.0), good power to weight ratio, surprising practicality
Thumbs down: Exterior parts hard to find, relative obscurity, hatchback only
Price range: $4,000-$6,000
1983-1988 Ford Thunderbird/ Mercury Cougar
What? Another Thunderbird? Yes, but in many ways this one is rather special. At the time of its introduction, it represented a new European inspired breed, with a very low drag coefficient, sleek styling and the availability of a five-speed manual gearbox. The Cougar was a bit more traditional looking than its T-Bird sibling with a blockier grille, unusual quarter-light design vertical back window. Performance versions of these cars came in two flavors, 1983½-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and 1984-1986 Cougar XR-7, powered by the turbocharged 2.3-liter “Lima” overhead cam four-cylinder engine, or the 1987-1988 Cougar XR-7, powered by a 200 hp fuel injected 5-liter V8. Among the cognoscenti, the 1987-1988 cars with their slicker styling and more power (the Turbo Coupe got an intercooler, boosting power from 155 to 190 hp), are the ones to go for, but any of these cars are worth a look. For the era, they boasted good fit and finish, plus some really nice interiors, with comfortable, supportive seats and easy-to-use controls. And because they are Fox Fords, most of the engine and chassis upgrades applicable to Mustangs will work on these cars as well. The base Thunderbird and Cougar of this era came with 3.8-liter V6 engines, but it’s easy to perform a V8 swap and upgrade the suspension with aftermarket springs, shocks and bushings. As for go faster parts; the sky’s pretty much the limit. For the V8 cars, everything from aftermarket blocks, to cylinder heads, fuel systems, power adders are available, much as it is for Mustangs, though in some cases you might need to make a few adjustments. Another bonus is that with a longer wheelbase, these T-Birds and Cougars ride much better than their ponycar brethren and from 1987 the performance versions came with standard four-wheel disc brakes and ABS, much sought after by Mustang enthusiasts for five-lug all-disc brake and wheel conversions.
Thumbs up: Well-made, nicely appointed interiors, decent performance and relatively good aftermarket support
Thumbs down: Turbo engines not always reliable, many examples used and abused
Price Range: $3,000-$6,000
1994-1998 Ford Mustang
If there was ever a cheap point of entry into the Mustang game at present, the 1994-1998 cars are it. Although the jellybean styling is perhaps a bit generic, compared with their Fox predecessors, these machines boast much improved interiors, chassis stiffening and handling, thanks to a reconfigured suspension. Braking is also much better thanks to standard four-wheel discs. In factory form they were heavier, so the GTs of this ilk are a bit slower, a major reason why they’re not as sought after. Still, an abundance of aftermarket support is available for these cars and you’ve got a lot more options when it comes to fitting larger wheels and tires. Base models came with a 3.8-liter V6, initially with 145 hp then bumped up to 150 for 1996. It was offered with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. GTs came with a 5.0-liter V8 in 1994-1995 with 215 hp and then a 4.6-liter single overhead cam unit rated at 215-220 hp from 1996 onwards. The 1996 and upward GTs tend to go very cheaply these days, largely because of the fairly complex and relatively tuner unfriendly engines – you’ll find many sporting suspension, body and interior upgrades but stock motors. Aftermarket engine upgrades are available, but they generally cost considerably more than the 1994-1995 5.0 cars. The SVT Cobras are a more enticing proposition. Also offered with 5.0 pushrod power in 1994-1995 but using a different intake and heads, good for 240 hp, they came with a five-speed manual gearbox only. The 1996-1998 Cobras featured a fairly exotic dual overhead cam all-alloy V8 that was rated at 305 hp and was quite the marvel in its day – quarter-mile runs deep in the 13-second range were possible, making these cars among the quickest Mustangs built up to that time. Among this generation of cars, the 1994 and 1995 Cobra convertibles, due to their limited production (and in the 1994 model’s case Indy Pace car fame) are considered quite collectible, but the rest fall well within our $6,000 price range. In fact, a friend of this author recently picked up a very clean ’96 Cobra for $4,000 in Florida and drove it all the way back to Michigan, proving indeed, that there are bargains out there.
Thumbs up: Great performance for not much money, better built than earlier Fox cars, good aftermarket support
Thumbs down: Complex 4.6 engines not always easy to maintain or modify, generic styling, heavy
Price Range: $2,500-$6,000
11 Classic Cars For Under $6,000