This new gig has given me the perfect excuse to pick up a new, to me at least, Corvette. But with such a vast array of generations, with equally varied price tags, I could see how it would be easy to become mentally vapor locked. So, what is the best bang-for-the-buck Vette out there? We were kicking this question around the office and we found out that the answer isn't as obvious as you might think.
When thinking “best deal” you need to figure out if it's in terms of initial purchase, or if it's also factoring the day you sell it. It also matters if you plan on cruising it to shows or slapping around Porsches at the local track.
To me the best deal out there right now, if you want to go fast without simultaneously going into hock, is an early C5 Z06. You can get one for less than $20,000 and they are pretty fast right out of the box. Toss on a few grand of the right upgrades and it would be a real track terror. An even better deal, if you plan on modding the car anyways, would be to find a non-Z06 Fixed Roof Coupe (FRC) Vette. Without the Z06 badge they can be had for close to $10,000, which leaves a lot of green for go-fast (and look good) parts. The downside here is when you go resell the car any mods you make will be worth only pennies on the dollar.
If you have the cash, C7 Stingrays offer supercar performance at five-digit prices. But new cars drop in value the moment you cruise them off the lot. So, they are great cars, just not sure if they are “deals” quite yet. The good news is that the introduction of the C7 means there's a virtual glut of gently used, as well as hammered, C6s on the market. I found a nice C6 Z06 for $36,000 and that's a lot of car for the money. Still, just like the C5, the C6 and C7 variants will suffer when resale time comes along.
C4s are one of the least expensive ways to get a Vette into your driveway. Most go for well under $10,000, and many less than $5,000, we even found a nice '90 ZR1 for $23,000. They've already depreciated, so no worries there, but they can be problematic to modify in strict emissions states like California.
If you want the best return on any money spent, then the right Vettes would be the earlier C1 and C2 generations. The problem here is that the beaters (and we mean really beat) start around $25,000 and rocket upwards from there. We keep buying lotto tickets, so who knows.
That leaves us with the classic C3. The later versions, starting with 1973 when they began ditching the metal bumpers, can be found for well under $10,000 and have great performance potential. But the earlier, 1968 to 1972 versions, are really the best bet. Nice drivers can be found for $15,000 and fully restored cars are bargains at $23,000 and up. Best of all, if you spend money fixing them up you won't get hammered on resale. They are also smog exempt, which is a big bonus to us since we're stuck in California.
So, after factoring in price, resale, and even our emissions testing here, I'm on the hunt for a clean C5 FRC or low-option '69-'72 Stingray. The C5 would get the weekend-warrior track-car treatment while a C3 would get updated to 2014 restomod status. Of course, when car hunting you never know what'll pop up, so who can say what I'll end up in. But, the shopping sure is fun! Now if those lotto numbers would just hit.