With the economy constantly in question, it might actually be a good time to begin the search for the collector car of your dreams.

How so? To free up cash to pay bills, some of the first items to be sold off are luxury pieces such as jewelry, watches ... and cars. And often at a discount.

The bargain you couldn’t find a few years ago might just be out there now, but it’s important to not only consider a price that seems too good to be true, but also what’s hot and what represents good value over the long run since a car bought in this economic climate could stand to gain considerable ground if and when markets and buyer confidence rebound.

While prices have been out of this world for rare Corvettes, Plymouth ’Cuda models and plenty of other so-called muscle cars, Bob Varsha, who anchored Speed TV’s 40 hours of live Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction TV coverage in is quick to reassure car lovers of the bottom line.

 

“You don’t have to spend $1 million to get a really cool car.”

There are bargains aplenty to be had out there.

There are numerous cars in the sub-$50,000 price range that can deliver a tremendous amount of bang for the buck and a lot of pleasure for their owners, but don’t require a second mortgage.

The first task in searching for an older car is to set your personal priorities before you begin shopping, says Barrett-Jackson chief executive officer Craig Jackson.

“What are your goals and objectives? What do you want to use the car for? Do you want a Sunday driver for the weekend, a car that you drive daily, something that will appreciate in value ... or do you want creature comforts like a restomod (an old car with modern amenities)?”

If you assess what you want ahead of time, it’s easier to make the right choice and avoid a costly mistake.

The bottom line, though, is whatever you choose, buy it for love, not in the hopes of a financial windfall.

There are no sure bets, but if you’re in the market for a fun classic with some upside financial potential and aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few suggestions:

1960s FORD MUSTANG

Craig Jackson likes Mustangs, which were popular and plentiful in the 1960s and still are today.

“I always try to say for first-time collectors, get something like a Mustang.... They’re simple, and if they break, parts are very, very readily available and not that expensive. Just about anybody can work on them.”

AMERICAN MOTORS AMX

Made from 1968-70, the two-seat AMX was a niche muscle car, one perfect for owners willing to think outside the box. The AMX became a four-seater in 1971. “There are still some great AMXs that are available between $25,000 and $50,000,” said Dave Kinney, author of the quarterly collector-car price guide Cars That Matter and a professional appraiser of vintage cars.

FORD FALCON SPRINT

Available with a V-8 for the first time in 1963, the sporty version of the mom-and-pop Falcon, the Sprint was light, nimble and quick, a popular rally racer back in the day.

“The Falcon has a great club-race history, especially in Europe," said Kinney. “Not everybody remembers that the Mustang was just a Falcon with a special body.”

FERRARI 328

Made from 1986-89 as coupes (GTB) and targa tops (GTS), the 328 evolved from the 308 model immortalized by Tom Selleck in the old Magnum, P.I. TV show.

However, you have to be careful because buying exotic cars such as this is only the beginning of the financial commitment.

According to Russo & Steele’s John Bemiss, “The only thing that holds those cars back are the maintenance costs. When you buy one of those cars, you want to be sure to get maintenance records so you know it’s been maintained properly.”

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