Fuel efficient classics

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Published July 21, 2013

| Hagerty

Forget about a mountain drive or a blast down the highway. With fuel prices still hovering near all-time highs, even a cruise down to the local car show can drain your wallet. But owning a classic shouldn’t necessitate a large shareholder’s position in Exxon. In fact, you could daily drive the following classics as they sip, not slurp, fuel.

  1. The Austin Mini was the David to the auto industry’s Goliath. This giant-slayer is a world-class rally-winning race car due to its Go-kart-like steering and front-wheel drive. Anywhere but on a drag-strip, the Mini’s razor-sharp handling, short wheelbase and quick braking more than compensate for any lack of power. Additionally, there are infinite engine choices and tuning levels, but even with a wilder setup you should see north of 30 mpg. What else would you expect from a one-liter?
  2. A more mainstream option, if you prefer a true sports car with traditional front engine/rear-wheel drive layout, comes from across the other pond: Datsun 240Z. It’s as reliable as it is pretty and is currently appreciating strongly. It features a 2.4-liter straight-six engine that is just as responsive as the chassis. Forget the Toyota 2000GT, this is the classic Japanese sports car. As an added bonus, the Z gets fuel economy on par with most of today’s sports cars: about 22-25 mpg.
  3. So too does another reliable sports car option that is also beginning to appreciate rapidly: the timeless Porsche 911. I recently drove one cross-country and back while enjoying 23 mpg. These German cars may be finicky, but once they’re running right, they’re as dependable as a Swiss watch (and much more fun). Want even better fuel economy and a lighter car? Go for its four-cylinder little brother, the 912, which is also less likely to swap ends on you if you get scared and jump off the throttle.
  4. How about the Lamborghini Countach LP400? No, it isn’t remotely fuel efficient. But the Fiat X1/9, designed by Marcelo Gandini of Bertone (who penned the Countach), and also a rear-wheel drive mid-engined two-seater, is very fuel efficient. No one will mistake its performance for that of the Countach, but it is a good-looking Italian that gets roughly 33 mpg in normal driving.
  5. Sadly (or thankfully, depending on perspective), fuel efficiency isn’t classic American cars’ forte. Most Detroit muscle doesn’t even dream about 15 mpg; big-blocks were racing engines detuned so that people could get more than four mpg, but not much. However, if you’re a fan of mean 60s steel, don’t despair: there are options that make about 20 mpg, have style and are cheaper to own and insure than their big-block brethren as well! For example, the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang could both be outfitted with six-cylinder engines, and while they certainly won’t set any speed records, they’re stylish, fun and relatively easy on gas. Just make sure you get one with a manual transmission, as the automatic will eat into that fuel economy.
  6. Finally, the Chevy Corvair. Not a muscle car, but a great, modern-looking classic that featured a rear-mounted air-cooled (oil-cooled) flat-6, just like the Porsche 911.

Go ahead, pick any of the above, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it has to be inefficient. Then hit the road!

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