I’ve probably owned 30 cars, and about half of them would now be considered classics. I’ve had the luck to get in ahead of the curve a few times, buying a collector vehicle just before its value zoomed skyward. A list of likely-to-appreciate classics has to be considerably fluid, because models will suddenly catch an up- or downdraft affecting their current and future value.

But, after visiting a few auctions, I see a few sleeper American cars that are not only relative bargains right now, but are also quite fun and usable while you’re waiting for them to appreciate. As I’ve pointed out, collecting antique cars is a more lucrative hobby than hoarding art, coins, stamps or real estate.

Buy the best car you can afford; cheap rustbuckets would cost a fortune to restore, and parts for some of these are scarce on the ground. In general, don’t consider a collector car unless you have a garage for it; vehicles of this vintage both rust and leak if subjected to the elements. I do think that every car on this list can be a daily driver, though it’s best if your run isn’t too long or traffic congested — many classics will overheat if forced to sit on sunny days.  

’64 to ’66 Ford Falcon Sprint

Ford Falcon Sprint

Photo: Ford

I saw a mint four-speed ’64 Sprint convertible stall out at just $8,000 and change. Considering that the Falcon shares its floorpan with the first-generation Mustang, and the V-8, manual shifter mimics what Carroll Shelby did to those cars, here’s a car that amounts to a bargain-basement Cobra. Pay $10,000 to $20,000 for solid examples, with the convertibles (as always) at the top of the range.

’63 to’66 Dodge Darts and Valiants

Dodge Dart

Photo: Dodge

Everyone likes the looks of these Falcon/Corvair-chasing “compacts” that benefit from a solidly built chassis and bulletproof six- and eight-cylinder engines. I’m biased, of course, since I own a ’63 Dart convertible, but I don’t think I’d get an argument from the experts. Points are gained for the pushbutton automatic in early models. These Mopars haven’t stayed fairly stable while Mustangs have soared in value, but I sense a correction ahead. The Dart GT and Valiant Signet are the top of the range. Pay $6,000 to $15,000 for good examples.

1947 to 1958 Studebaker Champions

These third- to fifth-generation models are in the collector doldrums, despite streamlined ahead-of-its-time Raymond Loewy styling. The “spinner” nose (similar to that of the 1949 Ford) was inspired by airplane designs. I saw a 1949 Champion four-door sedan in very good condition make only $3,700 at auction. These cars also benefit from rarity value — you won’t see many at the car shows, in amongst the rows of ’55 to ’57 Chevys and Thunderbirds, muscle cars and Corvettes. Pay $5,000 to $15,000.

’61 to ’63 T-Birds

Thunderbird

Photo: Ford

Yes, the ultra-charismatic Sports Roadster models, with their wire wheels and metal tonneau covering the rear seats, is a coveted car. But plainer ‘Birds in coupe or convertible form have languished. That’s a shame, because these cars are very good looking, with futuristic styling both in and out. Rocket-flare taillights, dramatic Jetsons' two-tone bucket seats and World’s Fair-worthy switchgear are just some of the delights that come to ‘Birders. Pay $4,000 to $20,000, more for a genuine Sports Roadster (there are plenty of fakes around).

’62 to ’66 Chevy II Nova

Chevy Nova

Photo: Chevrolet

A sturdy, good-looking car that was immensely popular in its day, but not so fondly remembered today. I’ll always regret trading in my bright red ’62 Nova convertible, the car I drove in high  school. The SS models, with bucket seats and fancy trim, are most sought after, but it’s only a trim package — plenty of SS cars are powered by Chevy’s trusty straight six, as was my entry-level car. As with most cars of this period, the hierarchy builds this way: four-door sedan, wagon, two-door sedan, coupe, convertible. But wagons, like the ’63 my family owned, are relatively rare and appreciating. Pay $3,000 to $15,000. 

A few others I’m watching: Kennedy-era Lincoln Continentals (until recently a huge bargain); ’63 to ’65 Buick Rivieras and early front-drive Olds Toronados; ’60 to ’65 Mercury Comets (especially the Caliente convertible and hot rod Cyclone models). Check out this video for the "Golden Anniversary" '64 Dodge Dart:

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.