Today, Mustangs are highly desirable as collector cars, but they are also surprisingly affordable if you know what to look for.
Back when it was first launched, the concept was simple: Build a sporty, stylish car based on existing parts, and make several versions ranging from an economical “secretary’s car” to a full-on racer. What resulted was one of the most iconic and well-known cars on the planet.
Here are six iconic Mustangs that won’t break the bank.
1964½ – 1970: The First Mustangs
The first-generation Mustangs are generally the most sought after by collectors, and yet there are still bargains to be had. It’s the law of supply and demand: Ford built more than 2.5 million of these cars, and they became valued as collectible classics almost immediately. Shelbys, convertibles, high-power packages, and ’67-’68 fastbacks command the highest prices, but if you’re just looking for the Mustang experience, you’ll find plenty of restored notchback coupes, clean and drivable, in the $10,000-to-$20,000 range. Convertibles trade for a few thousand dollars more, and some later-model muscle editions can be had for around $25k. If you’re looking for a project, it’s a buyer’s market: You’ll find loads of restorable cars and abandoned projects (often with a cache of spare parts) for $5,000 or less—in many cases, a lot less.
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1971 – 1973: The Fat Mustangs
For 1971, the Ford Mustang gained a foot of length and 600 pounds of weight, and several performance models were dropped. It was not the Mustang’s finest hour: Sales plummeted, as did collector interest. But these cars present a good opportunity for Mustang collectors on a budget: Their age exempts them from many states’ emissions requirements, which means you can still build them into a proper muscle Mustang, and their scarcity relative to the 1964-1970 cars makes them unique. Slow sales (just over 400,000 for the three-year period) and a lack of respect back in their day means there aren’t as many survivors as the ’64½-’70 Mustangs, but you’ll find plenty of clean, well-maintained and decently restored cars in the $10,000 to $25,000 range, including convertibles and high-power versions like the Boss 302 and Mach I.
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1974 – 1978: The Mustang II
1974 saw a radical change: The Mustang was downsized from a pony car to a trim, fuel-efficient compact. Though many regard the Mustang II as a failure, the truth is that it was the right car for the time, and it sold strongly, at least in its first year. The Mustang II was based on the Pinto and shared its economy-minded four-cylinder engines. Ford later built V8-powered variants like the Cobra II and King Cobra, and while their emissions-choked engines didn’t produce much power, their ground-effect body kits and garish paint jobs were (and still are) pretty cool. The Mustang II has been largely ignored (and largely derided) by collectors, but is now starting to gain some respect. Survivors are few—many of these cars rusted out and most went unceremoniously to the crusher—but prices are low: Clean Cobras can be found for less than $12,000, and the often-ignored four-cylinder cars can be bought for $2,500 or less.
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1979 – 1993: The Fox Mustangs
1979 was the year the Mustang got its mojo back. The third-generation cars, based on the new Fox platform (which went on to underpin many generations of Ford rear-drivers), featured trim, contemporary styling, and more importantly, they were designed for Ford’s 302 cubic inch V8 engine—the much-vaunted 5.0 (which was really a 4.9). By ’86, the 5.0 had fuel injection and developed a respectable 225 horsepower. For budget buyers, it’s a bonanza: There are plenty of nice V8-powered coupes, both stock and modified, in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, with four- and eight-cylinder convertibles fetching $3,000 to $5,000 more. If you’re looking to build your own, you’ll find plenty of unfinished projects and clean four-bangers for $2,000 or less.
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1994 – 2004: The Modular Mustangs
The Mustang got a new look for its 30th anniversary, though the underpinnings were based on the familiar Fox platform. The new Mustang was more rounded and arguably not as timeless a design as the ’79-’93 cars, but the powertrains took a turn for the modern in 2006 when Ford fitted its new 4.6 liter “modular” overhead-cam V8. Base-model Mustangs of this era had a 4.0 liter V6, a stout engine that provided more of a muscle-car feel than the 2.3 liter four-cylinder in previous-generation ‘Stangs. These cars are new enough to be regarded as used cars rather than collector cars. Shop carefully and you will do well: You’ll find decent V6 convertibles for less than $3K and serviceable V8-powered GTs for around $5,000. The best bargain may be the 1999-2004 SVT Cobra, which featured an independent rear suspension and a 320 horsepower engine. You’ll find plenty in the $15,000-$20,000 range.
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2005 – 2014: The Modern Mustangs
The Mustang received a complete redesign in 2005, with a new squared-off shape reminiscent of the first-generation cars and a great retro-themed interior—in fact, you could almost call the new car a resto-mod. Though they retained their solid rear axles, these fifth-generation Mustangs were strong performers with modern, responsive handling. And in 2011, there was a bonus for fans of the first Fox cars: The 4.6-liter V8 gave way to a (true) 5.0-liter engine. Even more so than the 1994-2004 cars, these Mustangs are priced as used cars rather than projects and collectibles, but they have the advantage of modern safety features and electronics. You’ll find a good selection of older cars priced well under $10,000, Shelbys and Boss 302s priced at $65,000 and up, and a huge selection of cars in between. Set your budget, shop around, and you should have no trouble finding the future collectible Mustang of your dreams.
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