I Need A Cheap Muscle Car! What Car Should I Buy?

Patrick lived on the West Coast for fifteen years and he’s back in Chicago. He needs something affordable but also “respectable” for a gearhead. He likes NASCAR and old school muscle, but isn’t sure if something quality will fit his budget. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

After moving back to Chicago from the West Coast 15 years ago, I haven’t needed a car for a long time. Now that our office has reinstated work from home permanently, my wife and I have decided to move out the burbs for a bigger yard and an honest to goodness two car garage. (So long, street parking!)

Now, we already have a great minivan as a grocery getter/school shuttle for my wife and our twin four-year-olds. But occasionally, I might need to run errands in the middle of the day or enjoy a weekend drive out to a park or something.

I grew up following the NASCAR of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and while my heart yearns for an old school MOPAR or Chevy to tool around in, I realize my pocketbook and lack of confidence in my wrenching abilities probably rule them out. I would like something in the realm of practical … but I still want to have some street cred with my uncles and cousins who still dominate the dirt track where I grew up.

I can spend up to $10,000 but less is better

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Chicago

Wants: Affordable, respectable to gearheads

Doesn’t want: Something super expensive to maintain

Expert 1: Tom McParland – Japanese Muscle

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For A Cheap Ride That Will Get Me Respect From Gearheads! What Car Should I Buy?

Photo: Craigslist

Patrick, my first instinct was to go full Blues Brothers and find you something with a “cop motor, cop tires, and cop suspension.” But those all seem pretty worse for wear at this price point. However, I didn’t give up on the V8 and rear-wheel-drive dream. What I found may not be recognizable for your average gearhead, but those who know … know.

This is a 2003 Infiniti M45 with under 100,000 miles for around $8,000. It doesn’t look like your typical Japanese luxury car from the early 2000s as the styling cues invoke something from the Motor City. Under the hood is a 4.5-liter V8 that sends 340 horsepower to the rear wheels. All that is a recipe for a “muscle car” albeit one from a brand you may not expect, and these Infinitis are pretty reliable. This particular example seems well cared for, and the owner even has an extra set of winter tires. Nissan’s luxury division doesn’t make ‘em like this anymore and likely never will again. This means these V8 cruisers might be a bit of a “classic” someday.

Expert 2: Mercedes Streeter – A V8 Time Capsule

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For A Cheap Ride That Will Get Me Respect From Gearheads! What Car Should I Buy?

Photo: Facebook Marketplace

Welcome back to the area, Patrick! Chicago and its suburbs aren’t known for its driving roads, so let’s get you something that oozes style even while sitting in traffic. This 1968 Mercury Montego has old-school muscle car looks and a 302-cubic inch V8 under its long hood.

That V8 makes about 220 HP, which won’t win you many races, but should be good enough for some solid fun. The engine bay offers a ton of room for repairs and an old, simple car is a great platform to gain more wrenching abilities.

The seller says that this car isn’t show quality, but it looks ready for you to hang your arm in its open window and go for a long drive. It’s $7,500 on Facebook Marketplace in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, and is said to have 27,000 original miles!

Expert 3: Jason Torchinsky – If You Have To Be Cheap, Be Weird

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For A Cheap Ride That Will Get Me Respect From Gearheads! What Car Should I Buy?


Hey hey Patrick, thanks for coming out. If you want the respect of old-school muscle gearheads, I think there’s two ways to go — one way is expensive, and requires finding desirable cars and getting them sorted just right. Your budget doesn’t make sense for that, but, luckily, there’s another way, a way I actually prefer: Go a little weird.

In the context of old-school American muscle weird, I think the Oldsmobile Toronado is a great choice: big, meaty V8 power, but perversely driving the front wheels. And it’s not just some normal FWD platform like a 1980s Citation — this is a longitudinal V8, so you get classic long hood/short deck proportions.

Toronados always had bold design, and while your budget doesn’t really allow for the most iconic first-gen ones, this 1973 one for under $8,000 is still a fascinating specimen.

The second-gen Toronado styling was a bit more “personal luxury” than “bonkers gigantic GT car” of the first, but it’s still great and full of odd details like a minimal front grille, huge sweeping front fenders, and funny extra high-mounted taillights under the rear window.

The interior is blood-red, with incredible-looking seats and a novel wrap-around dashboard. The trunk is a vast county of storage area, and, since you’re in a place where winter is real, you may actually appreciate the traction advantages of FWD.

It’s even in Illinois as well! Every gearhead you meet is going to want to inspect this burgundy beauty more, I promise you. You’ll see.

Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.

Kitty Gochal

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