This is a question that comes up all the time. Sometimes I’m asked, “What’s the best first Alfa Romeo or Ferrari?” Other times it is just, “I’m thinking of getting into vintage sports cars. Which one would I have the most fun with?”
There are many layers to these types of questions.
My first answer is always, “Buy the best example you can afford.”
Most people buying their first sports cars today are looking for a driving experience — not a “how-to” experience. If you don’t have the time, space or inclination to be a tinkerer, you want to buy a car that has been lovingly and thoughtfully maintained.
For example, a 1975–80 rubber-bumper MGB in good condition will offer a lot more immediate satisfaction than a more-desirable “pull-handle” 1963 in poor shape. And if you are new to vintage sports cars, you’re going to have so much sensory overload your first time out that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a 1980 or a 1963. (To get to know your new old car, I advise you create situations that are old-car friendly, such as tours on lightly traveled back roads with other cars of similarly modest performance.)
Here are my suggestions for affordable first sports cars:
The Alfa Romeo Spiders from 1982 on, with Bosch electronic fuel injection, are a decent prospect. You should be able to find a good car for $10,000. At $15,000, you should be looking at a great one.
On the English side, I have always liked the flowing lines of the MGA. But it really takes $20,000 to buy a good one, and spending $25,000 will get you much more car. These are primitive cars, with their leaky tops and side-curtains. If you’d like a little more modern comfort, a 1962–74 MGB has slightly better performance and a much more useable interior. You can find good ones for $10,000. Later MGBs can be had for even less.
Entry-level German cars are simply more expensive. For a long time, the Porsche 914/4 was a well-kept secret, with better-than-356 performance for half the price. Well, they are still no more than half the price of a 356 coupe, but as the 356s have soared, the 914s have gone up as well. I think it takes at least $15,000 to buy a decent 914 these days, and that may be a bit light.
With any of these cars, be sure you have them checked out by a marque specialist. The $250 you spend on a pre-purchase evaluation will be the best money you ever invest in an old car. The last thing you want is to jump into the old car world and end up with a deficient machine that costs you more money that you could possibly have imagined without giving you any driving thrills in return.