You’ve finally decided to take the plunge and buy a collector car at auction. But floaties and wading in the kiddie pool are not for you — you’re in with an armstand back, two somersaults, half twists in the pike position dive from the 10-meter platform. You’re going to buy at Monterey!

Now, you’ve done your homework, know exactly what it is that best suits your needs and scratches that special itch. There’s a clear understanding in your head that with any vintage collector car, the purchase price is only one component of immediate costs — and that a full service is not really an option but a requirement.

Speaking of finances, when your friends learn of your project, they either assume that you’ve come into a sudden inheritance, were employee Number 3 at some social-media startup, or have simply decided that the kids will be happy to trade four years at Stanford for the six-week program at the Junior Missy College of Cosmetology & Dog Grooming. But, as a longtime SCM subscriber and avid reader of the auction reports, you know that even in Monterey — where world records are routinely set and the prices for some cars enter the eight-digit realm of fine-art prices — bargains can be found.

Of course, there’s no sense in paying less for something you really don’t want — there’s no value in that. But in a quick survey of early consignments at the auctions on the Peninsula, we’ve discovered some potential budget buys sprinkled among the diamonds in the richest car auctions in the world.

All these cars have pre-sale estimates below $50,000, so their new owners may be able to say, “Oh yes, this is the [Ferrari, Porsche, etc.] I picked up at auction in Monterey in August — and it gave me change back from $50k,” while leaning casually on the fender of their new prize and sipping coffee on a lovely fall morning.

The rule I set for the list was that it shouldn’t be some obscure brand or model, just dragged from a barn/garage/bricked-up closet, offered at $30,000 and needing little more than a $200,000 restoration to be enjoyed. What we have here are well-known, popular cars with a good following, excellent club and spares support, and all enjoyable for rallying, long weekend trips and fun errand runs.

Let’s go kick tires:

Mecum’s 1955 Thunderbird

From Mecum at the Hyatt Monterey comes a quintessential American star of the 1950s, a 1955 Ford Thunderbird. I’ve long had a soft spot for these, as I was also launched in 1955. It’s in my favorite color, Raven Black, and nicely optioned with automatic, power steering and brakes. The market for these cars has not shown much movement in the past decade, but they remain very popular and are great examples of the kind of car you can buy, enjoy, maintain and sell without worrying if you can find a buyer. The estimate on the ’Bird is a market-correct $35,000–$45,000.

Bonhams’ 1970 Porsche 911T 2.2

Over at Bonhams at the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, you might take a look at a 1970 Porsche 911T 2.2. Offered at no reserve and with an estimate of $35,000–$45,000, it brings that classic early 911 motoring experience that has so captured the market and expanded the ranks of Porschephiles so dramatically in the past few years. You don’t have to splash out $100k for a 911S when a car like this will deliver much of the same for a lot less and provide a lot of smiles per mile. Yes, the marque nabobs may look down their noses at this “base” model, but there is also a lot to be said for the far less finicky nature of these lower-tuned models over their higher-strung siblings. Although they need to be driven with a bit more bellicosity, if you drive a Porsche and don’t want to “put your foot into it,” then perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong car... .

Russo and Steele’s 1964 TR4

There was a time when the thought of $40k for a Triumph TR4 would have been considered ridiculous. However, recent sales have indicated that the perennial low values seen for these fun Brit sportsters have begun to change. In fact, the SCM Pocket Price Guide is due for a bit of an adjustment on these cars. Russo and Steele have a 1964 Triumph TR4 on the waterfront in Monterey that is pegged at $40,000–$50,000. Many, myself included, prefer the solid-axle TR4 to the IRS of the TR4A, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a 1960s British roadster on the road. The sum is definitely more than its parts when it comes to these cars, and the ease with which they can be kept on the road is absurd. Their styling, by brilliant Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, is truly timeless.

RM’s 1979 308 GTS

RM’s 1979 308 GTS

Rather more expensive to maintain but offering far more neighborhood garage cachet is the no-reserve 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS from RM Auctions at the Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, which comes with an estimate of $30,000–$40,000. The (borrowed) transport of one Thomas S. Magnum, P.I., this model will forever be associated with a dashing young hero living an exciting life in an exotic locale. For those who drink “Old Dusseldorf” beer from a long-neck bottle as opposed to a martini, “shaken, not stirred,” this mid-engined V8 it is the perfect alternative to that six-figure 6-cylinder. The 308 is one of the most beautiful shapes to have come from Pininfarina, and the model also represents one of the few high points to come out of what was generally a grim time for interesting cars. To be able to own what is without doubt a classic model of the Fiat-era Ferrari — for Toyota money — is a situation that will not last forever. The snobs who look down on 308s will age out of the market, and a younger, less-opinionated group will come to appreciate its dynamic qualities.

Gooding’s 1948 MG TC

Gooding’s 1948 MG TC

Our final pick is yet another icon, the 1948 MG TC. Acknowledged as a major contributor to the establishment of “sporty car” culture in America after World War II, the spindly pre-war design taught thousands of drivers that agility, lightness and balance could count for as much — if not more — than horsepower and “road-hugging weight.” The example at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach auction is said to come from long-term ownership and is available at no reserve with an estimate of $30,000–$50,000. It is certainly true that on today’s interstate highways the TC is not in its element, but as most of you who are reading this would prefer to seek out the two-lane alternatives, this MG would be a terrific companion. Just re-adjust your viewpoint and expectations to those of 1948 and you won’t be disappointed.

Today it takes an attentive and involved driver to anticipate the requirements of the brakes, the quality of the ride and level of power available. That doesn’t mean it all can’t be truly entertaining. Good luck in Monterey! ?

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