Seven Vintage Cars for College Freshmen

It’s already that time of year. BBQ grills are shut off, pool toys are packed away, and incredible discounts are offered on multi-packs of Bic pens.

Summer’s coming to an end, and with it there comes a new wave of bright-eyed new college freshmen ready to start new and exciting lives. Most of them will drive off to school in boring, aging econoboxes, unaware or simply uncaring of the better transportation options out there. But what about the gearhead college freshman? What can he or she do to get to class cheaply and reliably, but also sate those fossil-fueled passions? Fear not and give ear. We've complied a helpful list of affordable, fun cars for the rising Petrolisti.

Click the name of each vehicle to see matching eBay listings.

Volkswagen GTI

Simply put, the GTI, especially the MkI, is the gold standard of what a college car should be. It’s still surprisingly inexpensive and incredibly practical for day-to-day use. If something does go wrong, parts for the GTI are cheap and plentiful. Perhaps most importantly, though, the GTI is one of the greatest low-cost driver’s cars ever made, with more fun to be had behind the wheel than any other car except perhaps the original Mini. You really can’t go wrong.

Volvo 245 Turbo

There comes a point in every college student’s life when he or she needs something hauled. Dorm furniture, sports equipment, intoxicated sorority girls, whatever the case may be, at some point you’ll either need to ask a friend to move something or move it yourself. The second option requires you have either a truck or a wagon, and there’s no better wagon for a freshman than the Volvo 240 Turbo. It played a huge part in establishing Volvo's presence as a wagon builder. It's also associated with safety, which is incredibly important when surrounded by college students. Assumedly, then, it’s a slow, boring safety cage for a people and cargo. The 240 Turbo’s racing history would beg to differ, as the sedan won the 1985 European Touring Car Championship, beating Mitsubishi, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, and BMW.

Mercedes-Benz 300CD

The college lifestyle can take its toll on a car, as a full class schedule, extracurricular activities, and an active social life lead to plenty of miles being put on without much time for maintenance. Because of this, a car that can take some punishment is a must for a college student, and diesel Mercedes are borderline immortal. It’s not uncommon to find examples with hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock still in good running condition. The 300CD has more to offer than bulletproof reliability, however. The coupe is a handsome-looking machine, and at the end of the day, it’s still a Mercedes-Benz.

Toyota SR5 4x4

Sporting events are an integral part of college. Almost as important as the actual game, of course, is tailgating, and to do that, the freshman will need something with, well, a tailgate—a pickup truck. Pickups are useful tools to have in college: they're low cost, can carry tons of stuff, and are bulletproof. Just because they’re practical doesn’t mean they can’t be cool, however, and one of our favorites is the mid-80’s Toyota SR5. When done right, it can be an attractive sports truck with movie-star appeal. What movie-star appeal, you might ask? While he’s much better remembered with the DeLorean, Back to the Future fans will remember that Marty McFly’s own ride was a black lifted 1985 SR5.

Ford Mustang 5.0

Going fast on a college student’s budget can be a challenge. Most cars in a college freshman’s price range are, to put it conservatively, sluggish. There are a few, however, that can be not just a joy to drive but frighteningly quick. At the top of that list is the third-generation Ford Mustang, especially the later “5.0” badged examples. 5-liter Ford V8s are strong in stock configuration, but if that’s not enough, with cheap modifications these engines can become horsepower beasts. This Mustang’s styling has also aged remarkably well, and a strong aftermarket makes them infinitely customizable. A freshman with one of these would never lose it in the campus parking lot.

Datsun 280Z

Sure, the Mustang is a fast car on the drag strip, but what if Campus Drive has corners? The obvious answer is to buy a sports car, but examples on a student’s budget are hard to find. One possible choice, however, is the Datsun 280Z. It may not be quite as desirable as the early Z-cars, but it’s still a classic and an absolute blast on the road. The 280Z is an easy way into the rear-drive sports car club.

Alfa Romeo Spider S2

Yes, there’s a certain appeal to practicality, reliability, and cargo space. Lest we forget, however, college is supposed to be a fun experience, a time for exploring our boundaries and expanding our horizons. It’s said that some of the strongest relationships of a person’s life are forged in the college years. So why not start an automotive relationship with something as charismatic, exciting, and beautiful as your first significant other? Nothing else in a college student’s budget packs as much character and style as a Series 2 Alfa Romeo Spider and nothing else is going to worm its way into your heart as much as this. Also, it’s an Alfa—it’ll give the young driver plenty of opportunities to learn all about classic car maintenance along the way.

Photo sources:,,,,,,, and