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10 Convertibles For $10K (or less)

Autumn in the North Woods is a special time. Starting in the middle of August here in Minnesota, the temperature starts to fall off a bit and the days get noticeably shorter. By the middle of September in the Twin Cities, the leaves are changing color and we’ll have a day or three of cool, rainy weather.

You make a mental note of where you hung up the roof rake, and you fire up the furnace, just to make sure, donchaknow? You begin to think about putting the clean-roads-only fun cars away, making those phone calls to insure your winter storage is secured, and maybe you start digging around the garage for snow tires.

That last part is a lie. If you’ve any gasoline in your blood at all, you hit the local marketplaces looking for cheap convertibles.

See, the clean-road-only driving season is short here, and we like our open cars. Starting in March, convertible pricing starts to edge up, and really hits its stride April through June. But starting toward the latter half of August, when Labor Day is plainly in view, the prices start dropping. We’re almost to the end of September now, and prices are falling faster still.

Would have featured this one, but the ad was terrible and one interior photo showed massive spookiness. See below for a better (?) one.

Some asking prices rise and fall more than others. The ones you really notice are attached  to younger cars, like a BMW Z3 or a Mazda Miata. Saab 900 and 9-3 convertible prices, especially for those with the wrong number of pedals, are frequently dumb-cheap pretty much year-’round. Classic prices are more steady, but still fluctuate enough to be noticeable. For this exercise, there really aren’t any rules. I arbitrarily picked $10,000, and I want to be able to learn the car a bit before I either hunker down with the wrenches or just start driving. If the car needs a top, so be it. There are upholstery shops here.

We’re huge proponents of top-down driving in all conditions save liquid water falling from the sky. So are these cars winter drivers or winter projects? Only you – and a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks – can make that choice.

2001 Audi TT Quattro Convertible – $6,750

Those who know me will wonder what type of glue I’ve been smoking to even mention a VW/Audi product of this era, but I’ve always admired the Audi TT. Have I liked it more than a BMW Z3? Certainly not. And never mind the TT looks like a squashed New Beetle and the oily bits have the longevity of soggy potato chips. Like so many cars with an enthusiast following – and for better or worse – there is nothing unknown about this platform.

This TT has had a bunch of work done, including the all-important timing belt service. Nimbus Gray is a nice contrast to the baseball leather interior, and overall the cosmetics look great, including those seats. The seller says everything is tip-top, including the clutch and brakes, and it has new tires to boot. And what’s sitting right up top on the front of the dashboard? That’s right: seat heater switches.

I’m digging on this one more than I should.

1999 BMW M3 Convertible – $8,900

Let me start by saying that the aforementioned glue I’ve been inhaling from this dime-store head-shop pipe is tasty. Hence an automatic M3 convertible with six-digit miles. But bear with me for a moment.

The mantra for any BMW from this era is, “Start with a clean, straight example and the rest is replaceable.” This M3 certainly presents well, and the seller says it doesn’t go out in winter. Estoril Blue is a great color, and the normally fragile gray leather looks fantastic. The cooling system has been replaced, and the car doesn’t currently mark its territory like a wolf. When the automatic transmission fails, a manual swap is a weekend’s worth of labor. These are all good things!

Sure, the check control panel is flaky, and the airbag light is on (it’s a faulty passenger seatbelt buckle, because it always is, except when it isn’t). But then, if those things weren’t true, how would you know it’s an E36? Wonder if the power top and seat heaters work. Actually, given my experience with the E36 M3, I’m more concerned about the heater valve.

1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible – $8,900

Some cars are numbers cars, while others are numbers cars. This is the latter. Follow along: 500 cubic-inch V8. 10 MPG. Over 18 feet long. Over 5,300 pounds. This car is so big, everything it does is plural. It’s magnificent. And brown.

Most importantly, it needs a new top. The seller (Earl) says the mechanical bits work, but the glass window is missing and the canvas needs to be replaced. Earl has an estimate for $2,400 all-in. It seems to have been stored well since Earl claims the floorboards are rust-free. Indeed, what we can see of the interior looks great. And brown. While Earl says some work has been done – brakes, shocks, exhaust (with cut-outs!), a battery – there is of course more to be fixed, including a seatbelt, a window switch, and the parking brake. I want to believe Earl.

Get the top in full working order, and you could drive this while attending to the rest.

1994 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible – $8,500

C4 Corvettes are cheap and plentiful. Will it always be thus? Probably not, but there sure are a lot of them for sale at any given time. This one is about average on the money scale. It’s also a full-convertible, as opposed to the many targa-roofed cars advertised as ‘verts.

There isn’t a lot of information about the car, but it looks good in the photos, with about the right amount of wear for the age and miles (which sits at just under 90k, per one of the images). Black on black is a fine, if ubiquitous, color combination. Like many plastic-fantastics, this example sports an automatic transmission.

The price has already dropped a grand, so when the seller says “no low ball offer” he or she probably means it. I don’t see me bringing a Corvette home any time soon, but I still think it’s a good idea.

1981 Fiat 124 Spider – $2,900

Is it Italian? Yes. Is it adorable? Yes. Does it have rust? Electrical trouble? Oil consumption issues? Yes, yes, and yes. Do I care?

Nope.

The seller has done a ton of work, as you’d expect, but the hot-rod engine rebuild didn’t quite take. So it would all have to come apart again. Add that to the rust here and there (and probably everywhere), though the seller asserts it’s mostly solid underneath. But it also has Bosch fuel injection for decent drivability, an absolutely stunning interior, and a new top. The BWA wheels are lovely, and the Abarth steering wheel is killer.

The rust will ultimately do this car in, and you’d be insane to chase it. You could rebuild the engine – again – over the winter and drive it until the car breaks in half. Or use a couple of cases of oil in the trunk as ballast to power on through to spring.

1989 Ford Mustang Convertible – $9,500

We like Fox-body Mustangs around here, but neither of your Totally That Stupid hosts would ever get buy-in on bringing one home. This one is a lot of red, but the condition – and the fact it’s mostly all-original – keeps me coming back. And mostly stock, too: Check out the factory intake and exhaust. No 5.0-liter from the era of Robert Van Winkle retains these pieces. 85,000 miles is nothing, and it seems like this one has led a good life, one that has rendered the body rust-free and the paint and trim shiny and clean.

Another case of a great -looking car with the wrong number of pedals. And another case of when the automatic transmission goes bang you swap in a five-speed.

2006 Mazda MX-5 – $9,000

You knew there’d be a Miata in here somewhere. Why? Because Miata Is Always The Answer.

This era of Miata – the NC – has grown on me. I will admit that whenever a new generation of Miata shows up, it takes me a while to come around to its design. Happened when the pop-up headlight NA begat the less-classic NB, and again when this weird NC debuted. That said, and while I don’t love the NC, I appreciate them for the funky little things they are. This one has good colors, low miles, and has not ventured out in winter.

The ad is a little thin on information. But it’s a Miata. They’re not difficult.

1966 Rambler American 440 Convertible – $5,500

For the record, “440” is the model name, not the engine size. The engine is actually a 232 cubic-inch inline-six that probably moves the car well enough though its console-mounted three-speed slushbox. This isn’t a sports car, of course. It’s a cruiser. Just look at the drum brakes.

And it’s not so nice – with its budding rust and dodgy respray – that you couldn’t run it all year, especially with its good convertible top. The interior looks livable, but would certainly be improved by a thorough scrubbing and maybe some detail work. The radio doesn’t work, but that’s an easy fix. The alloy wheels add to the cool look, and the stock wheels and hubcaps are included for your snow tires.

This smart-looking Rambler is definitely not a car you see all the time, and it could be fun to run while making minor repairs.

1996 Saab 900SE Convertible – $4,500

Reed’s been on a Saab kick lately, and I can’t say I disagree with him. Saabs are still cool cars. The early ones ran the gamut from weird rally weapon to your undergrad English professor’s ride, while later ones were an interesting twist on the otherwise largely homogenous near-luxury market. Even through General Motor’s ownership  – and other, earlier partnerships that led to cars like the 9000 and 9-5 – Saab retained most of its funk-tastic Swedish personality.

This red example, different from the one above, ticks a lot of boxes. It has the turbocharged motor, a five-speed manual, good colors and condition, low miles, and seat heaters. In fact, I think it ticks all of the boxes. It has some bumps and bruises, but it’s very original and has had some reassuring maintenance including tires, brakes, and a clutch.

I may have to try a Saab sometime. I really like the last two generations of 9-5 sedan and wagon, and I’m starting to warm to the 900/9-3 cars.

1973 VW Thing – $9,500

I will admit to being confused by several things mentioned in this ad (that I’m too lazy to Google). I think the Kadron kit has something to do with the dual-carburetor setup, and I’m pretty sure the German 009 refers to a Bosch distributor. The seller mentions new brakes, too, but there isn’t a lot of other information other than some more confusing words about a modified front axle. Maybe I’m just not paying attention.

Still, VW’s little World War II refugee almost always bring smiles to faces, despite their less than auspicious start to life. The interior is typically Spartan, perfect for the dog in the ad, who seems to like it. This Thing comes with a hard top, which is less convenient for spontaneous top-down driving but probably more effective at keeping winter out. An aftermarket gas-fired heater would sure keep the cabin toasty.

Would it be weird to run with the hard top in place but the windshield folded down? Someone please buy this Thing – or any of the above rides – and report back here.

9 thoughts on “10 Convertibles For $10K (or less) Leave a comment

  1. “This car is so big, everything it does is plural.” – One for the ages. We LOL’d here on the Left Coast. Oh, and that 232 I-6 in the Rambler? Bulletproof. Had one in the Gremmy that was my first car. Thanks for the great list, and (as usual) excellent writing.

    • “This car is so big, everything it does is plural.”

      This has been in my brain for years. I honestly don’t remember if I or Larry Klein said it first, and it may originally have been about one of his really fat dogs. But it’s been kicking around for easily 25 years.

      • Reed thought it might be a decent buy at the current price, I would prefer to see it with a number starting with a 6, but that probably won’t happen if it is as clean as it is represented. Plus we still have the E30 convertible to drive, so another old convertible that won’t get driven much is perhaps not a car to purchase.

        Unrelated, have you guys looked much at electric and hybrids?

      • Having one convertible in-house, plus access to another, plus another one in deep storage, I can relate. I find the more old cars I have, the fewer old cars I drive (I just default to the “real” cars because they’re easier).

        We have talked about hybrid and electrics, but only a bit. We’ll have to revisit!

  2. I’m struggling to pick a favorite! That Cadillac just speaks to me, but something tells me I’d get more grins-per-mile out of the Miata.

    Also, pass me some of that sniffing glue. Sounds like you got the good stuff.

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