Journal: These Are The Top Ten Classic Cars for the Teen Enthusiast

These Are The Top Ten Classic Cars for the Teen Enthusiast

By Aaron McKenzie
July 25, 2014
60 comments

Some sixteen year-olds, bless their hearts, just aren’t content to drive a late-model econobox, understanding even in their youth that life is too short to drive a boring car. With these kids in mind, we recently invited you to suggest the best vintage car for the teenage enthusiast. Most sane, frugal parents are not going to hand their freshly-licensed teen the keys to Dad’s ’67 Stingray but that doesn’t mean that a stylish vintage ride is out of the question. Young drivers can have a lot of fun for under $10,000 and to prove it, we’ve compiled our list of the ten best classic (pre-’90) cars for the teenage enthusiast. We’re confident in our rankings but also certain that you’ll use the comments section below to let us know where we’ve erred.

#10 Jaguar XJ-S–Produced from 1975 to 1996 and available with either an inline-six or a V12 engine, this car will give you your first taste of stylish grand touring. Granted, efficiency and reliability were words seldom associated with the XJ-S–rest assured that even if you don’t buy one, you can always visit your friend’s Jag at the local mechanic’s shop–but if you’re looking put on airs in the high school parking lot, this is the car for you.

#9 Chrysler Conquest/Mitsubishi Starion–Make reference to Mr. Jackie Chan’s black Starion Turbo in the 1984 film “Cannonball Run II” and you’re likely to get nothing but blank looks from today’s sixteen-year-olds. And yet, with engines that offered anywhere between 150-197 horsepower–and with a body that epitomizes 1980s styling–the Starion/Conquest siblings offer a fun driving experience that’s unlikely to get a young driver into too much trouble. The challenge, as with many of the cars on this list, is finding one in acceptable condition.

#8 1980s Volkswagen Scirocco or GTI–Quick, light, and nimble, these 1.8 liter, 16-valve stable-mates were fun in the ’80s and they still offer smiles aplenty today. Go ahead and scoff at the 123 horsepower, but the Scirocco held its own against the much pricier BMW 325s and Porsche 944s of the day and the GTI remains a stalwart of the hot hatch class. Volkswagens and Audis of this period were known to be, shall we say, mechanically finicky but if you can live with their flaws, you’ll have a lot of enjoyment in store.

#7 Saab 900 Turbo–Where most carmakers are content to ensure that their cars can withstand a collision with a deer, the Swedes have long prepared for a bigger possibility: moose. The so-called “Moose Test” puts Saabs and Volvos through a two-step process that first tests the car’s agility in avoiding a collision with a moose, while the second phase tests the strength of the A-pillar in the event of a collision. A turbocharged car that can do battle with a 1,000-pound bull moose–need we say more? For further persuasion, check out our video on the Saab 900 Turbo.

#6 BMW E30 3-Series–You can break the news to your kid right now: there’s no way she’ll be getting an E30 M3 with the money she can scrape together, so she might as well adjust her expectations accordingly (although she can still dream by watching our video on the E30 M3). Fortunately, BMW made an entire line of great-looking E30s like the 325i that remain attainable for working teens and offer great handling, classic BMW lines, and might even ride the wave of the M3’s recent appreciation.

#5 1980s Honda Civic Si/CRX Si –Go ahead and snicker at their 91-horsepower engines, but short wheelbases and sub-2,000-pound curb weights make these cars the best combination of fun, reliability, and efficiency that money can buy. Introduced to the United States as the CRX Si in 1985 and as the Civic Si in 1986, these cars have become fixtures of street racing in both the United States and in Japan (fine, we won’t mention that to your parents), which makes unmolested models a bit hard to find. To increase your odds of finding a 1980s Honda, you might also include a Prelude in your search. And while you’re searching, take a look at our video on the 1987 CRX Si.

#4 Mercedes-Benz 190D–If you’re looking for a tough, reliable engine that comes wrapped in a dollop of luxury, then the Mercedes-Benz 190D is your car. It won’t be the fastest car on the street but it will keep going right on past your friends who are broken down on the side of the road. Besides, who wouldn’t want to say that their first car was a Benz?

#3 Toyota Celica Supra–Mention 1980s Toyota sports cars and most folks will immediately recall the MR2, and with good reason. Don’t forget, though, that Toyota once had an entire line of fun, reliable sports (or, at least, sporty) cars that can now be had for a modest sum, including the Mark II Supra. Produced from 1981-1986, this Supra has great 1980s lines, an inline-six putting out 150 horsepower, and all the reliability you’d expect from a Toyota of that era. While the “Performance-Type” (P-Type) and “Luxury Type” (L-Type) models are mechanical twins, the P-Type’s trim, wheels, and tires give it the superior aesthetics. In your search, don’t neglect the Supra’s four-cylinder Celica sibling.

#2 Volvo 240/242–Whether a wagon, sedan, or coupe, “The Brick” is an obvious choice for your first car. It’s safe, dependable, and, if lowered and paired with the right wheel-tire combination, stands to be the best-looking car in the high school parking lot. You’ll get extra points if, in your search, you manage to find a 242 Turbo coupe or a 262 Bertone.

And finally, #1… Ford Mustang–The Fox-body Mustang, manufactured from 1979-1993, returned the pony car to its rightful place after four years of Mr. Lee Iaccoca’s Mustang II abomination. If you’re looking for a car with power aplenty–and with the potential to offer power beyond reason–then you’d best start looking at the Mustang 5.0, although you should probably also be thinking about how to persuade your parents that a Mustang is, in fact, a perfectly sensible first car. The Fox-bodies came in a variety of trims, but our preference runs toward the LX package for its understated lines.

Images Sources: Stangbangers.com, Scirocco.org, Saabism.org, Vintage-original-ads.com, Autominded.net, Volvotips.comPaintRef.com

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HowndogChuck GoolsbeeBuck RogersPanzer AceAchilles Meskos Recent comment authors
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Panzer Ace
Panzer Ace

what the F*** is this? a bunch of 70’s and 80’s S***boxes? When I was 17, I saved my hard earned money, and bought a 1969 Opel GT. I paid $5,000 for it, cash, locally. I wax this car every two weeks, and I take it to shows all the time. I’m only 19 now. My advice, don’t listen to any of these morons that recommended these cars on this list. they are horrid, God awful things. the chances of finding one of these cars, used, that does not smell like a whorehouse are less than having a 1987 Lamborghini… Read more »

Buck Rogers

…Said the 19 yr old.

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Achilles Meskos
Achilles Meskos

Why not a na miata? It was launched on 89 so it a pre 90s car, rwd, and super cheep to drive and maintain! It’s a double goal introducing someone into classic and racing car community..

STAR of oRION
STAR of oRION

A Jag for a teenager? Guess it will look pretty as a planter in the parents yard.

Joel Hunter
Joel Hunter

And here I am, 17, with my second-generation Camaro. I know a lot of guys around here with them. Dead simple, awesome cars, TONS of support (8.5 10 bolt rear end, sbc 350, TH350 or big-three four speed, etc. popular stuff). I’ve had her for maybe 6 months and put all my money into it, somewhat dumbly. I promise, one day I’ll finish it. Suspension, interior, paint. And maybe some Vortec heads… and a Crane 274H06 cam… and Edelbrock Performer RPM intake… and balanced rods… and flat top pistons… and you get it.

Lukas Duyck
Lukas Duyck

What if you want a cheap italian rwd stylish car?
I’m 17 and in a year or so, i will be able to buy a car. And since i am a huge fan of classic italian sportcars i would be happy that my first car is one. I don’t really mind about power (i’m happy with everything above 100 bhp). I do wan’t rwd and style.
I thought about an alfa 75 and a gtv 2.5. Any other suggestion?

Buck Rogers

if you go italian you better take analog electronic class.

aaaaplay
aaaaplay

I drive a Saab 9-3 Aero technically it my second because my first also a 9-3 got rolled. But I’m alive an uninjured. Good cars safe, reliable, defiantly stand out of the crowed and a lot of fun!!

William
William

I’m gonna have to go with my very own 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Its safe (huge front end), lots of turbo fun, comfortable, not bad on insurance and is quite unique. Don’t let the 4-cylinder fool you, its still decently quick and fast.

Howndog
Howndog

I had an 87 TurboCoupe. Loved it!

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BlueBug
BlueBug

There are a whole lot of good American cars too, that aren’t mentioned, from the 60’s and 70’s.

Ford Falcon
Chevy Malibu
Olds Cutlass (a really great car – I’ve had two)
Studebaker Lark and Daytona (Chevy drivetrain, easy to get parts for and cheap)
Chrysler New Yorker (as big as a whale!)

The Volvo 940’s were very good cars too – same drivetrain as the 240, very cheap, very safe, and very comfortable. The 960’s are even better with a great 6 cylinder engine and beautiful interior.

Aaron Greenberg
Aaron Greenberg

Well, my first car was a diesel Merc and I loved it. Got me through a daily 60 mile commute to and from my high school and continued to serve me through my junior year of college until she got so rusty that mom and dad demanded I replace her. So yeah, I got another one and, 12 years later, am still driving it 😉 And now I see those hipster kids out in California flocking to Benz diesels. Which is okay I guess since most of them come from money and will buy nice ones to keep with the… Read more »

MKEgreg
MKEgreg

Any Jag, Benz, Volvo, Saab, VW would send most teenagers straight to the poor house for many years to come…………

Connor
Connor

The first car i ever bought was a 1985 Toyota Celia Supra p-type. I still miss that car.

Jono51
Jono51

If there is one thing I can remember from my own time as a teenager it is that anything anyone over 20 thought was cool definitely wasn’t. So all of these choices are probably wrong. Although I must say some of them seem so wrong they might be right (A Mercedes diesel????)

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram

Nice list, but a shame not to have seen a few more cars thrown in for the European readership. The MGB, for example, is an ideal “starter classic”, as is an old Mini or Volkswagen Beetle.

And whatever country I lived in, I’m not sure an XJ-S is a wise first car choice! I love Jaguars but in my experience, teenagers like to eventually get to their destinations, and the Jag perhaps isn’t the best choice for that.

Jono51
Jono51

I agree about the XJS, a well known money pit if you buy a cheap one! But where is the Miata? Surely the obvious no.1 choice?

Seth Rose
Seth Rose

A good addition to this list might be your supra’s stablemate the AE86 Trueno or Levin those classic cars will have you grinding gears and looking for a mountain pass to drift. They are still relativly affordable and parts are aplenty for them. I personally had a 1988 Buick Reatta for a first car got it for 600 bones still have it and to this day am still in love with it.

Aj
Aj

Mine was mark 2 celica supra 1983 and I loved it, you can’t beat it just hard to find . The mustang would be pretty cool too.

Ian
Ian

Why not the early 90’s Taurus or Taurus SHO?

Doug Miller
Doug Miller

I’m really surprised no one has mentioned the Porsche 944. Decent non-turbo, non-S2 models can be bought for far less tha $10k.

nikola
nikola

of the cars listed The SAAB, the Benz and the CRX in that order, catch my eye the most…

Tom
Tom

When you’re a teenager, any car built before you were born is, in fact, an old car. So for the newly licensed 16 year old, any car built from the mid 1990’s back qualifies as a “classic”. If I was a teenager today, I’d be looking at these (in no specific order)
Mazda Miata
Knight Rider era Firebird or IROC Z’s
Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon
Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo
Isuzu Impulse
Nissan 300ZX
Subaru Impreza
VW GTI
Merkur XR4TI
Escort GT

Not a list of my favorites from that era but I can see kids finding these cars interesting.

cale brenden
cale brenden

Early Z’s are perfect cars for the learning car enthusiast. So easy to work on. Parts are cheap and easy to find (Autozone easy). Genuine Japanese reliability and the experience learned turning these things into little track cars with hands on results will help keep the youth interest in cars long past the high school years.

Josh
Josh

I think the MGB is a good first car for a teen. My first car that I still own is a 1971 MGB that I bought in rough shape to restore. It was cheap and easy to restore (Under $6000 including the cost of the car) and parts are extremely available. It’s a chrome bumper car, easy to find and generally cheap parts (Had a corvette before, parts are available but the prices are ridiculous) The actual car is cheap and easy to find, easy to restore, insurance is cheap, super fun to drive, etc. The only downside is it’s… Read more »

Brompty
Brompty

You are spot on with the MGB. After entering my post I then had a moment of reflection while on a bike ride and suddenly thought of the second car I owned an MGB GT. Rust is a real issue, but there are plenty of cars stored carefully away in heated garages that are for sale. Acceleration is slow, but the overdrive button is fantastic fun. Insurance on a classic car policy is very cheap.

Solved.

Brompty
Brompty

Looking at your list I can only assume that insurance for young drivers in your part of the world is vastly less expensive than in the UK. Any car with more than 100 bhp or has the word Turbo anywhere will be completely prohibitive. There is one solution and I cannot believe it is not on your list: Mini.

Bryan Olson
Bryan Olson

Brompty the insurance rates in the US are about 1/4 the cost of what you pay in the UK and petrol is less than 1/2 what you pay. The reason the Mini isn’t on the list…. they are rare here.

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

You’re spot on. Again, it really depends on where you live, but the minute you put a big V8 or anything ‘turbo’ powered, the insurance skyrockets.

And while our costs initially seem less, it’s really due to the currency exchange rates. We pay nearly as much as you for gas that’s, well… miserable.

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

The first generation Miata just turned 24; I think folks easily dismiss it as a modern car when it really isn’t. There was a slight bump in power and a passenger airbag added starting in ’94 which was carried into ’97 before they changed the car a bit, but otherwise, there is no appreciable difference between a 1989 car and a 1997 car. And, there’s another huge element to this car that is almost universally overlooked by folks until they spend any time behind the wheel: It is based on a classic car. It truly is a basic roadster; aside… Read more »

Bryan Olson
Bryan Olson

Todd your points are valid but I think your kinda missing the point “THESE ARE THE TOP TEN CLASSIC CARS FOR THE TEEN [b]ENTHUSIAST[/b] ” . so their list reflects mostly affordable [b]DRIVERS[/b] cars, which most of those cars were (save the XJ). Your Miata suggestion was on point but no matter what you do, trying to get a Jeep,Bronco, FJ40 or any old Ford,Dodge or Chevy truck to take a corner in an enthusiastic manner is a terrible idea. I like your list of classic cars though I’m not sure what the used car market is like in Texas,… Read more »

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

An auto enthusiast will have a broad scope. The Miata is a driver’s car; every bit as much as a BMW E30; the balance is nearly identical and for less money you can wind up with a Miata that’s more powerful, handles better, and is cheaper to insure than the BMW. But not every auto enthusiast is into cars for speed. A couple of my early cars (pre-21) were a ’57 Bug ragtop, a ’71 Karmann Ghia convertible, the previously mentioned Volvo 244, and a ’58 Bugeye Sprite. None of the cars on that list were fast or great handlers;… Read more »

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

I just cannot fathom what kind of world folks are living in to imagine giving their kids any one of these cars. I mean, it’s almost a list of the worst of the worst! Jag XJS: Expensive to insure, utterly unreliable, gas hog, incredibly expensive parts and low vendor support Starion: They were absurdly unreliable when they were introduced; good luck finding one today and if you do, it won’t run Sirroco: Really? A Rabbit in a pretty frock? You’d be better with the GTI, and you can actually find a few of these left unlike this hunk. SAAB: Good… Read more »

Wrenchicus Youthi
Wrenchicus Youthi

Go eat some prunes, old man!

Nick Cobb

I am by no means an expert, but I thought much of your monthly insurance rate had to do with the value of the car. Wouldn’t the insurance on most of these be fairly inexpensive?

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman

xjs ?
nice car but you’ll need deep pockets to get a good one and to keep it running, $10k won’t cut it.
my pick would be a late ’80s toyota corolla with the fabulous 4age motor.
they made zillions of them so lots to choose from – sedan, hatchback, coupe, fwd, rwd
cheap to buy and maintain, great fun to drive.

Seth Rose
Seth Rose

I cant find a rwd coupe anywhere around here. I would kill for a Fujiwara special!

Jon Volk
Jon Volk

E30s are getting out of reach on a reasonable budget. 5 years ago 2500 bought a super clean plastic bumper car. Thanks to hipsters and stance ‘tards, that same money will get a rusty, ratty diving board ETA.

Marvin
Marvin

My weapon of choice: the Alfa Romeo 155
[urlcomment image[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/5Y7Std]My 155[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/people//]Marvin R[/url], on Flickr

Marvin
Marvin

My weapon of choice: the Alfa Romeo 155

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

Just sent this article to my teenage nephews, told them serious respect if any of them buy an XJ-S. Mind you serviceable ones are going up in value, especially the early pre H.E. ones

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson

Missing the Volkswagen Beetle, I’m 18 years old and I am currently restoring a 1973 Bug. Very easy to work on, relatively cheap(defiantly under 10K), fun to drive, and very eye catching. I love it and I feel many people my age will love it as well

Seth Rose
Seth Rose

I myself have a 72 fasty! Love those aircooled engines:)

Anton Martin
Anton Martin

I’m form Spain and I’m 19. Here, we are allowed to drive when older than 18.
What do you think about a 1998 Rover Mini Cooper as first car? I’m very happy with it and I think it’s a proper driver’s car as it has any electronic aids. Not even power steering

Yoav Gilad
Yoav Gilad

Hey Anton! They’re great cars, but here in the US they are unfortunately rare and expensive. Also, it’s newer than our 1990 cutoff… but still cool! Que disfrutes!

Samuel Salzinger
Samuel Salzinger

Is it sad that I’m 23 and owned three of these cars already?

Samuel Salzinger
Samuel Salzinger

Saab 900 Turbo, Volvo 240 GLT, and I currently own a BMW 325ix.

racer129
racer129

Second the Porsche 924. Good learning car, easy to work , parts for the most part are inexpensive and easy to source. Just stay away from the 931, rare, expensive parts, and fairly specialized to work on.

King
King

My #1 and #2 guesses were spot on, good to know. Mustangs are cheap easy fun, and volvos are indestructible. I would have been glad to drive any of these in highschool…especially the Starion though. That is a very cool car.

It’s also important to note that if you’re looking for a unique ride, there are plenty of federalized 25 year old japanese cars being imported- often for under 10k. RHD Nissan Cefiro or Toyota Soarer, anyone?

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Well … thats a pretty decent list and all . Though how you missed the E30 BMW 320i is beyond me . Another on the list would have to be the Toyota MR2 … 1st and 2nd generation along with the old Toyota Corolla RWD Twin Cam and all the Celica’s . As far as the 924 someone else mentioned .. unfortunately the prices on those are on the rise big time and maintenance/repairs are anything but .. cheap . The myth of the ‘ affordable ‘ Porsche being just that . A myth ! The main problem with even… Read more »

David Zu Elfe

The 924 is no kind of financial sinkhole. It is fairly easy to maintain and unless you get everything done by a mechanic, it’s cheap! Bought mine for 4k€ and without a doubt: no regrets.

Almost every part is easily available and unless you regularly shatter your rear glass, you’re going to have a good time. Every time you turn the keys.

Stepping up to 924S & 944 is going to be expensive, both in parts as well as maintenance.

Plus: I wouldn’t write this if I weren’t just 21 years old and the 924 was and still is my first car.

Chuck Goolsbee
Chuck Goolsbee

The 320i was the E21, which came after the 2002, and before the E30. In the USA from 1977-1983. They are GREAT cars that are sadly overshadowed by their older & younger siblings. They were the launch of the 3-series and really cemented BMW as a brand in the USA. E21s can still be found for well under $10k, but good ones are tough to find. Most have been beaten and used up. If you find a good one, BUY IT, as the world is beginning to see them for the landmark car that they are and their value is… Read more »

Neal
Neal

I think this list is missing the Datsun S30. It’s fun and fairly reliable, while still offering opportunities to wrench. Plus it gets great fuel economy.

Yoav Gilad
Yoav Gilad

Tough to find a decent one under $10K these days, though…

David Zu Elfe

Well, I think there is a Porsche 924 missing! Super cheap to maintain, fun and fast to drive and well: Porsche as first car?

Shane Elliott
Shane Elliott

Definitely add the Prelude in if you’re looking for a Honda Si of the generation. The 3rd gen. with 4-wheel steering is a blast.