When you factor in purchase price, parts availability, restored value and desirability, some cars just aren't worth restoring, but these muscle cars make the best economic sense.
Buick Riviera (1963-'65)
There's no question that this is the absolute best-designed American car of the post-war era--it's simply spectacular. As a result of that fine styling, more people are starting to restore and collect these beauties. Expect to pay a premium for the 1964-'65 versions with the dual-quad carb setup, though all models are well worth restoring. Several companies are now beginning to offer reproduction parts, which will make future restorations less difficult than they are now, should your car require replacement panels and trim; reproduction seat covers and door panels are already available, and they're excellent. Restored correctly, an early Sixties Riviera will remain forever on the Most Wanted list.
Chevrolet Bel Air (1953-'54)
If you love Fifties-era Chevys, these cars make a great alternative to the ever-popular Tri-Five models, especially as more and more Bowtie enthusiasts are starting to appreciate their handsome yet conservative looks. Reproduction parts continue to increase in selection, and the prices are very affordable. All mechanical and electrical parts are easily bought, and for reasonably low prices, while used parts are easy to come by. Disc brake conversions and other high-performance upgrades are also readily available.
Pontiac GTO (1971-'72)
Even with the prices of early GTOs, especially those with Tri-Power and Ram Air-spec V-8s, beyond the price point of the average Joe, you can still own a Pontiac with those three little letters on the front grille: Just consider the 1971-'72 models. They're an extension of the reshaped A-body that bowed in 1968; apart from a few changes here and there, they still retained that menacing look of a GTO. Tons of body and trim parts have been reproduced, along with a whole host of go-fast goodies to tweak your car for better performance. This country is filled with GTO fans, so values will continue to rise, but only for factory-correct cars that have been restored well.
AMC AMX (1968-'69)
Clearly the best looking of all the AMXs built, interest in these cars continues to grow as more enthusiasts realize just how special and fast they really are. You'll pay a premium for the 390-cu.in. Go Package models, but the non-Go Package 390 is equally desirable. In fact, even the smaller 343 V-8 models are now sought after, with the 290 V-8 less so. Reproduction parts are available, but the line isn't that extensive, although it continues to grow, and many mechanical parts interchange with those from the Big Three. The cars are pretty basic, so they are not hard to restore. For American Motors fans, these are considered the AMC muscle car to own, followed by the 1970 version, so there will always be a market for them.
Ford Mustang (1964-'68)
Mustangs make ideal first-time projects because practically every part you'll ever need is only a catalog or website listing away. In fact, we can't think of any part that hasn't been reproduced. And there are literally dozens of companies supplying all the parts and accessories you'll need. Mustangs are also backed by excellent club support, with numerous experts everywhere. Projects are still easy to find and, when restored, early Mustangs almost sell themselves.
Chevrolet Camaro (1967-'69)
Same as the Mustang: Everything you need to rebuild one, no matter how rusty it may be, is available brand new. As Terry McGean, editor of Hemmings Muscle Machines, put it, "The '69 Camaro is the '32 Ford of today," which means there will always be a huge demand for these cars. You just can't lose restoring one. Best of all, they are fun to drive, reliable, and can be made very powerful thanks to a huge aftermarket for performance parts. The only downside is that even rustbuckets and rollers can no longer be had for $2,500.
Dodge Challenger (1972-'73)
It's the same story as with the Plymouth 'Cuda listed later. While most Mopar fanatics seem to prefer the 'Cuda, the Challenger is actually better appointed and detailed, with a more upscale look about it. Reproduction of parts continues to grow, making even the rustiest project car salvageable. These later models with the small-block V-8s are the most affordable to buy and the easiest to find, but they sell quickly due to an ever-growing demand for E-bodies. This is one of those collector cars that must be restored to exacting factory-original standards for it to be worth anything.
Pontiac Grand Prix (1962)
It seems to be every Pontiac fan's favorite Grand Prix: If you had to restore a GP, this would be the one. Its popularity never seems to wane. Basically, it's a full-size muscle car, but at half the price of a GTO--yet it, too, is powered by a 389-cu.in. V-8. Reproduction parts are increasing in availability, while every mechanical part (not to mention lots of performance parts) can be bought new, and at moderate prices. Interiors, including door panels, have been reproduced. Their handsome styling and racing heritage make these first-year Grand Prixs the ideal Sixties-era Pontiac for those seeking something different. With more than 30,000 built, they're not hard to find; as an alternative, consider the Catalina, which is a bit less expensive.
Pontiac Firebird (1970-'73)
Early second-generation Firebirds, just like the Camaro, have become highly sought-after these last few years in response to the soaring prices of the first-generation F-bodies, which are now beyond the reach of the average enthusiast. Although the high-performance Formula and Trans Am are the most desirable models, their higher values don't make them as accessible (if you can find one for a good price, though, those would be the models to buy). There are lots of reproduction parts available, including many new body panels. The cars are easy to restore and easy to sell, assuming you restore them correctly to factory specs.
Mercury Cougar (1967-'68)
Below the skin, the Cougar is all Mustang, which makes finding mechanical and electrical parts a breeze. But even some body panels and trim pieces have been reproduced for the early Cougar, so restoring one is not a hard proposition. Complete interiors are also available, along with tons of performance parts, brake upgrades and suspension parts. Solid club support means there's lots of knowledgeable enthusiasts to assist you, and a solid demand from both Mercury and muscle car collectors. The supply of restoration-ready cars is plentiful; also consider the 1969-'73 models, especially convertibles.
Oldsmobile Cutlass (1968-'72)
While muscle car enthusiasts prefer the more expensive 4-4-2, the less powerful Cutlass offers the same great ride and inspiring good looks. Its chassis parts interchange with all the other GM A-body cars, so finding brake and suspension parts is a piece of cake, and highly affordable, too. Exterior body and trim parts haven't been reproduced to the same extent as a comparable Chevelle, but lower production numbers means that these are a lot rarer--and yet not so rare that you can't find one to restore. They're out there, and for reasonable prices, too.
Plymouth 'Cuda/Barracuda (1972-'74)
Hardcore Mopar fans want the 1970-'71, while the later models, especially the 1973-'74 cars, are the cheapest to buy (and they're even cheaper with the smaller 318- or 340-cu.in. V-8s). An extensive supply of new body, trim and interior parts makes restoration a breeze. Just make sure the body isn't twisted due to serious rust, because there is no frame. In time, values will rise for the later models, as well as those small-block engine cars. Demand will always be there thanks to their good looks and wide appeal.
Chevrolet Impala (1965)
Since the majority of 1961-'64 Impalas have been either customized or turned into low-riders, the next affordable full-size Chevy duly became the 1965 model, followed by the '66s, '67s and '68s, etc... In fastback form, the '65 has a racy character to it, thanks to its sloping roofline and six separate taillamps. While reproduction parts aren't as plentiful as for the early models, there are plenty of new parts available to make even the rustiest project fairly easy to complete. Mechanical parts are very inexpensive and can be bought everywhere. Of course, the SS model is the most valuable, but even those with straight-six engines are becoming highly sought. The huge Chevy fan base ensures that values keep increasing steadily.
Chevrolet Chevelle (1971-'72)
Aside from the early Mustang, more parts have been reproduced for GM's line of A-body cars than any other. The 1966-'70 Chevelles are already kind of pricey to buy, so instead, go for the more affordable 1971-'72 hardtop or convertible models--they're substantially cheaper, yet nearly all the parts are the same. Restorations are straightforward, thanks to their basic body-on-frame construction. Having many admirers means they'll sell quickly and for a reasonable price, but like most muscle cars today, they have to be restored to stock specs.
Ford Thunderbird (1961-'66)
If you can't afford an early 'Bird, then these models are the next best thing, and a whole lot sleeker, too. We love the square 'Birds, but they still don't command the same level of interest as the early Sixties models, although that is changing. Each year, more and more parts are reproduced for these '60s Thunderbirds, making restoration easier, although not nearly as easy to the 1955-'57 'Birds (for which nearly every part is available). Demand is on the increase for these 'Birds, yet prices are still relatively low. And they sell quickly, too.
Plymouth Barracuda (1967-'69)
Although reproduction body panels aren't as readily available as they are for the 1970-'74 E-body Barracuda, more and more parts are being reproduced each year. Factory-correct interiors are now available, along with other trim items, making restoration of these good-looking pony cars a bit easier than before.
All mechanical parts are available, including a long list of aftermarket performance parts. Prices on project cars still hover in the $3,000 to $6,000 range, depending on body style. The fastback body seems to be the most desirable, and with E-body values beyond the reach of young enthusiasts, these Barracudas make a fine alternative.
Chevrolet Corvette (1978-'82)
One of the best-styled Corvettes is the late Seventies fastback: Its forceful, aggressive lines never fail to make a splash, and you can buy one in good running condition for less than $10,000. Plenty were built, so finding a decent example is easy. With dozens of Corvette specialists selling just about every part needed, including new reproduction parts and high-performance speed parts, restoring one is a relatively simple process. Backed by excellent club support and specialists, it's no wonder demand is on the rise for these models--but only those cars that are restored to original specs will bring top dollar.
Dodge Charger (1968-'70)
Beauty and brawn all in a single package makes for a very special car, as is the case with these Chargers. Considered by many to be the best-styled muscle car of all time, the Charger's outstanding design will ensure its popularity for decades to come. Every mechanical part is obtainable, with the list for reproduction body panels growing daily. Like many cars of this era, rust can be an issue, but all patch panels are available. Production totals were fairly high, so they are easy to find. The bigger the engine, the more you'll pay, but it will also be worth more in the end. But regardless of which engine provides the power, Chargers are a blast to drive, handle well and look fantastic. You can't lose.
Chevrolet Nova (1968-'70)
This model Nova is the Duster equivalent for Chevy fans. Large production numbers (over one million built) equals affordability today, making the Nova an excellent first-time restoration project for those on a budget--just avoid the four-door model due to lackluster interest. Filled with low-priced Chevy parts, this just may be the cheapest car on this list to restore. Numerous performance parts and large disc brake upgrade kits are readily available to enhance its drivability. Keep it looking stock, though, and it will be far easier to sell down the line, especially if it has a small-block V-8 under the hood.