Under the current climate of COVID, value for money is important. It’s an adage that held true with Aussie car buyers 30, 40 and 50 years ago, too. While many may have wanted the hot GT or sporty coupe, what they could afford was another matter. Our carmakers of the time understood this, offering model trims to suit even the most modest of budgets.
Similarly, ‘working vehicles’ didn’t come with any of the fripperies to satisfy the fickle passenger car market. Driven by offering value for money for the hard-working tradie or small business owner, most of these Aussie-made utes and panel vans were equipped with only what was required to get the job done.
In today’s collector car market, these vehicles don’t attract the same attention as their high-profile siblings, which means they’re priced accordingly – and affordably.
If you’re happy to take a more basic walk down memory lane, then an entry-level, base model may be the right classic for you.
The following three cars are pretty plain, often referred to as ‘poverty pack’ models, thanks to their fairly modest features and options. However, they share some similarities with much more expensive classic cars. More importantly, they represent great value today.
Ford XA Falcon 500
Released in 1972, the XA Falcon was marketed as “the most Australian Falcon yet”. Known for its ‘Coke bottle’ curves, the XA was noticeably more modern than the previous XY model. One notable new feature on the XA range was the in-dash vents for heating and cooling, which aimed airflow at head height, something that the Falcon had been criticized for in the past.
A six-cylinder XA Falcon 500 sedan was cheaper than a V8-equipped version back then and isn’t as expensive as you might think today. Compared to the Falcon GT or Falcon Hardtop, the $20-$25,000 starting price for a decent XA Falcon sedan makes it a relative bargain for the budget-conscious buyer!
Holden HQ Kingswood
Nearly half a million HQ Holdens were built between 1971 and 1974 - a truly staggering amount for the Australian industry. As the most prolific Holden ever produced, there are plenty of people with memories that include an HQ. Whether it was with your family, a friend, neighbour or workmate, chances are you have travelled in an HQ at some stage in your life.
Because of the sheer numbers of HQs still out there, finding cars and parts is not difficult, making them a great entry-level classic for those with a modest budget. We’d suggest a Kingswood sedan with a T-bar automatic and the trusty 202cid six-cylinder ‘red motor’ as a starting point. You’ll learn plenty about owning an old car, and it won’t cost you the world!
The ongoing popularity of the HQ means it attracts more money than an equivalent Ford, so expect to pay at least $30,000 for a good, usable example.
Chrysler CM Valiant
The final full-size car built and sold by Chrysler Australia before they were absorbed by Mitsubishi in 1981, the 1978-81 CM Valiant has often been overlooked by classic car enthusiasts.
Many struggle to pick the difference between the CM and previous CL model, which is hardly surprising given the pair shared most of the same sheetmetal and cosmetic components. Sharp eyed car enthusiasts will spot the updated grille and taillights, but the CM’s main change over the CL it replaced was the addition of the ‘Electronic Lean Burn’ system to the six-cylinder Hemi engine, promising better fuel economy and easier starting.
While rarer than the HQ and XA, the CM Valiant sedan is a lucrative prospect, particularly in today’s market. That rarity means finding one requires patience, but you can get into a CM for less than $20,000, with outstanding original examples rarely exceeding $30,000.
Another classic car genre that has definitely grown in appeal lately is commercial vehicles, more specifically Australian-built utes and panel vans. As most were day-to-day workhorses, they suffered accordingly and many were simply driven into the ground.
While tens of thousands of these vehicles succumbed to rust, aging and being pillaged to keep higher-profile classics on the road, there are survivors out there.
In terms of classic Aussie-made utes, the pride we feel for this Australian invention has ensured plenty are still around. FJ Holden and early Falcon utes are pampered classics now, but look to the late ‘70s and you’ll find survivors that are still in their “work clothes,” just waiting to find a new home with enthusiasts.
Holden HX Ute
Is there anything more “Aussie” than a V8-powered ute? Probably not, but the 253 or 308cid V8 wasn’t the default choice for ute buyers initially. Many still went for the 173 or 202cid six-cylinder as it got the job done. By the time of the HX Series, introduced in 1976, it was a different story.
The introduction of ADR 27A, aimed at reducing exhaust emissions, saw the 202 six produce 20 per cent less power (and consume more fuel) than it did in the preceding HJ model. That pushed many ute buyers to V8s as the losses in power and torque weren’t as extreme.
Getting your hands on a 253 or 308cid powered HX ute will definitely make you smile. And for those who like to customise, there are endless options when it comes to cosmetics, including GTS styled front guards, Premier and Caprice front end upgrades, or Sandman inspired decal kits.
A complete but rough HX ute can be had for around $15-$20,000 these days, making for not only an affordable classic, but one that will make those weekend trips to Bunnings all the more enjoyable.
Related to the HX ute, don’t forget the ‘One Tonner,’ too, which added a full chassis under the cabin. These were the real workhorses of the HQ-HZ range and could carry and pull more than their ute brethren.
Ford XC Falcon Ute
The XC Falcon may not have been as popular as the Holden equivalent, but it sure could turn heads with those curves!
Introduced at the same time as the HX Holden, the XC ute could be had in base or ‘500’ form, like the sedans. Under the bonnet, Ford’s response to the challenge of ADR 27A was better than Holden’s, so six-cylinder equipped XC utes aren’t total slugs. Actually, the addition of the crossflow head and revised inlet manifold saw the 200 and 250cid (3.3 and 4.1lt) sixes produce more power than they did in the XB.
As the XC utes shared the deep doors and front-end styling of the hardtops, they can take the cosmetic and mechanical features from these models, too, like the GS-style lights and bonnet vents. More audacious changes have seen these utes equipped with Fairlane and LTD front ends over the years, too.
Simpler ways of customising an XC ute include GS, Cobra or Sundowner style decals and Bathurst Globe alloys, which ensures you’ll look sharp at the local footy ground, sitting on the opened tailgate watching the game unfold.
Compared to the XA and XB, the XC remains underappreciated, but the differences in values are decreasing. Solid XC Falcon utes with the usual wear and tear from a working life are fetching around $15,000 these days, more for restored or upgraded examples.
With some of the marquee brands like the Monaro and Falcon GT out of reach for most, cars like the ones listed above allow you to own and drive a classic in a way that won’t break your budget.
Cars like these - and many other affordable classics - can be found at Graysonline auctions. For news on upcoming classic and collectable car auctions, go to Grays Online