The sad fact is that cars, like humans and their pets, have a lifespan. And much like a living organism, automobiles can suffer from neglect, disuse, and rough treatment until they're a shell of their former, healthy self. Think of a roaring muscle car like a healthy athlete, pumping iron, breathing deep, and set to push everything to the limit; everyone wants a piece of that glory.
For gearheads, the analogy goes a step further because their cars do seem alive. They receive names, get pampered, and live their existence out in a state of happy bliss. But just like a couch-potato who sits around all day getting nothing done, every vehicle will eventually turn into a sad sack barely fit for driving, much less living, without the proper exercise, attention, and care.
But there the analogy ends. And that's because there is another kind of car that maintains a certain specific place in the hearts of every automobile enthusiast: the workhorse. While pickup trucks often pop up when thinking about vehicles that give their all, plenty of sedans, coupes, and vans have served their owners dutifully while silently hurting a bit more than a garage queen.
The line between workhorse and beater is a fine one, however, and plenty of cars on the road sadly fall into the latter category. But all hope is not lost; even some of the grimiest beaters out there still deserve a chance at a second life. Some, on the other hand, just aren't worth the effort anymore. Keep scrolling for 10 beaters worth every dollar and ten to avoid at all costs.
20 Worth It: Ranger
This little Ford Ranger pickup has definitely seen better days. That driver's side looks crumpled up worse than construction paper after a full day at preschool, and yet, there's a good chance this thing can still do all that's asked of it. On the off chance that the owner decides to sell, his asking price will be low enough to justify purchasing this truck and driving it into the ground—that damage might make anyone hesitate to tow a boat, but Rangers were meant for smaller tasks.
Carrying plywood, a couple of Christmas trees, and a few bags of seed should be just fine for even this semi-sad example of Ford's long-lost Ranger (that's set for a return in the near future).
19 Worth It: F100
At first glance, this classic F100 looks to be rusting from the ground up and sagging on what must surely be some pretty ratty suspension. But a quick gander of the sparkling wheels, intact windshield, and that rearview mirror reveal that this is someone's baby, without a doubt.
They've just gone right ahead and let this truck gather a bit of patina—and have now got what looks almost like a rat-rod pickup on their hands. Sure, it's a little low but it's still going to be able to haul a few coolers in the bed. And if the engine bay is as clean as those whitewalls, this thing could have some serious character hiding beneath its aged skin.
18 Worth It: Mustang Fastback
Of all the cars that could serve as a potential backyard build, the Mustang might just be the number one option. Plenty of father-son duos have spent years wrenching on a Mustang, either keeping the old family heirloom running or resurrecting a decrepit barn find.
This Mustang looks somewhere in the middle, though, with some external details that point to disuse and neglect paired to wheels and tires that look ready for some street racing. Maybe this is the ultimate sleeper or maybe that's the owner's ultimate dream and they're part of the way there already. Either way, this classic is just about worth its weight in gold.
17 Worth It: Fox Body Mustang
For the uninitiated, the Fox Body Mustang that spanned from the late 1970s to the early 1990s might seem like it hearkens from an era that most people waved good riddance to happily. But there's a reason the Fox platform was Ford's longest-running vehicle architecture: it allowed for some solid cars to be built upon it (and no, the Fox Body's designer wasn't named Fox).
Ideally, this Fox Body retains its original 5.0-liter V8 under that primer hood, though judging from the hood pins there's a good chance this is a sleeper that hopes to fly under the radar despite a potentially beefy powertrain upgrade.
16 Worth It: Model T
The Ford Model T is the car that started it all. Henry Ford will forever go down as one of the most famous humans to have ever lived—and plenty of people still think he actually invented the automobile. Of course, that honor goes to Karl Benz and his Patent Motorcar from 1885, but Ford's adoption of the assembly line truly brought cars to the masses.
And in a testament to the quality that Ford aimed for with his vehicles back then, this Model T actually still runs and drives. Of course, it's in some seriously rough shape after almost a century of life but that won't stop collectors from clamoring after it.
15 Worth It: Model A
The Model A continued Henry Ford's dominance in the automotive industry, and eighteen months after its sales run began in 1928, it had already moved two million units. It helped to standardize pedal layout, came in more than 17 different configurations, and was the first car to have safety glass in its windshield.
But once again, Ford's determination to keep quality high and prices low meant that buyers could confidently purchase their Model A and expect it to last just about forever. Of course, even the wildest optimist wouldn't expect their car to last a full century—but this beat-up old Model A is just about there!
14 Worth It: Thunderbird
For younger automobile enthusiasts who haven't fully boned up on their history, the Thunderbird name must be kind of odd. After all, there's no T-Bird on the market today and the last few generations in the 1990s and 2000s were sorry excuses for cars with such a striking moniker.
But remembering back to the original Thunderbird of the 1950s, like this one, reveals that once upon a time, the name lived up to its own hype. With an optional V8 paired to a Paxton supercharger that could crank out up to 300 horses, the Thunderbird was a force to be reckoned with. The forces of nature are attempting to claim this one, but its owner would probably let it go for a song.
13 Worth It: Coupe Deluxe
This Coupe Deluxe left the factory in 1937, only three years after Bonnie and Clyde met their ends after being ambushed in this car's immediate predecessor. But as hip and stylish as Bonnie and Clyde may be today, gearheads would be much more attracted to this awesome two-door.
It may have paint that needs help, but the chrome and windows all look salvageable and given how simple interiors and engines were at this point in time, this is a great jumping off point for a backyard mechanic's potential restoration or restomod project—no matter how much the owner wants for it.
12 Worth It: Galaxie
Barn finds have blown up in the last few years with the internet making it possible to share all the amazing cars that people are discovering on properties around the world. Just Google 'Baillon Collection' for some seriously exciting, uber-rare vehicles left to rot in the outdoors or in sheds in France.
But here in the States, only a few cars could be more exciting to find than a beater Ford Galaxie like this one. With epic exterior styling and the capacity for serious V8 performance, even a beater Galaxie is worth the effort to bring it back to life.
11 Worth It: Falcon Ranchero
Even most amateur enthusiasts love to see a Chevy El Camino, regardless of how silly the model is as an actual combination of a pickup truck and a car. Few fans of the form realize, however, that Ford's Ranchero actually beat the El Camino to production as the first of the 'crucks' to be based on a relatively sporty car (in this case, the Falcon).
This Ranchero has some primer and straight-up paint taking up the majority of its exterior. If it was parked, squatting, in a bad part of town, no one would look twice and assume it was abandoned. But given that it's pictured here at a car meet, there's a good chance that rear end is on bags and that this guy is solid as gold under the hood.
10 Skip It: Mustang
The Fox Body Mustang is a great platform for starting a project and that's one of the reasons the third-gen Mustang is a hot ticket these days. Just about anyone is liable to have the cash to pick up a beater—but that doesn't mean just about anyone is about to do a good job with it.
This build is pretty bad. If that's a radiator sticking out of the hood, why is it there? Is there a new engine in there that's that much bigger than a 5.0-liter V8. Even worse, if it's an intercooler, this build has blown up into epic proportions that look beyond the talents of the builder based on the rest of the result.
9 Skip It: Pinto Wagon
Some Fords hit the market running and some land on dealer floors seeming immediately questionable. The Pinto, in all its iterations, fits into the latter category. Frankly, the fact that someone was able to keep this Pinto station wagon running for so long is impressive.
Are they a good mechanic? Possibly. Are they pushing the limits of sanity? Definitely. That rusted-out rear end, those wheels, that sagging suspension...the list of what's wrong (and dangerous) about this car is probably endless. Is that an empty hole where the gas cap used to be? No one should come within ten feet of this thing, let alone drive it.
8 Skip It: Taurus
The Ford Taurus of the 1980s and 90s can be thought of as a way to define the era. Bland, boring, underpowered (yes, even in SHO trim), and boat-like, the Taurus somehow managed to be one of the best sellers of the entire 1990s decade. Whether that's a statement about just how deplorable the rest of Detroit had become, the strength of the Ford name, or just about how bland and boring culture had become in the 1990s is up for serious debate.
But regardless of the reason, this beater Taurus looks spray-painted and dirty—even though there look to be rags on the windshield that the owner may have used to clean the car up for this shot.
7 Skip It: Explorer
There's a reason the Explorer of the 1990s earned its 'Exploder' nickname. And no, it wasn't just because of the Firestone rollover fiasco. In actuality, these trucks had a tendency to age worse than cheese on a humid day and the concept that someone still drives this beat-up Explorer should scare the pants off any drivers that encounter it.
This model was an early predecessor that helped to establish the entire SUV segment as the market force that it is today, but any that are still kicking in this kind of shape today should be avoided at all costs.
6 Skip It: Gran Torino
The Ford Gran Torino received a boost in interest after Clint Eastwood's powerful film named after the car in the movie. And while the Gran Torino is an oft-forgotten piece of Ford's history that should be up there among the brand's greatest successes, this example looks to be fading into obscurity.
Two-doors were undoubtedly a better bet (especially given how large they already were without the additional doors) and if anyone let their car get into this shoddy of shape, they should have seen Clint's movie and gone out to get their baby back in shape. But either way, values are way too high at the moment to consider purchasing even a beater like this.
5 Skip It: Falcon
Even though a Falcon Ranchero seems like a good bet for some sweet vintage car vibes, the normal Falcon doesn't quite do it—even when compared to other offerings from its own brand. This example looks like it could be hiding some serious damage, as well—beyond the patina that many of these cars show—given that strange off-white coloring above the rear wheel.
That kind of shoddy work points to an owner who could be acting a bit suspicious with their car. A quick lesson for keeping an old car around: either leave it crinkled or fix it right because anything in between is immediately suspect.
4 Skip It: Mustang IV
Ford's most iconic car, the Mustang, has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs since it first debuted in 1964. The lowest of the lows can be argued, but even fans of the Mustang will agree that the 1990s weren't a great time for the 'Stang.
Even a mid-run facelift towards more angular edges wasn't about to fool anyone that the fourth generation was going to somehow turn into a legit muscle car. Today, plenty of backyard modders are scooping up beater Mustangs left and right to strip into street racers—and one that's this far gone has scared off even the boldest of them.
3 Skip It: Ford Focus
The Focus has long occupied a slot as Ford's economical city car. Other than the ST and RS trims, the Focus has always been about cheap ownership. Unfortunately, that tends to carry over to cheap build quality and anyone thinking about potentially buying an earlier Focus should keep an eye out and see how many more than a decade old they see on the streets around them.
If the answer is plenty that look like this beater, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Out of any of Ford's cars, the Focus is the most worthy of a leasing versus ownership.
2 Skip It: Escort
The Ford Escort has a long history of rallying success and internationally, it's right up there with the RS200 in terms of legendary status. But domestic drivers probably wouldn't recognize either the Cosworth-equipped Escort or an RS200—especially because the Escorts that this country received were so pitiful in the 1990s.
Smaller and possibly even blander than the Taurus, the Escort was unworthy of Henry Ford's legacy and that alone should keep anyone from setting foot in the questionable beater pictured above.
1 Skip It: Fiesta
Plunking a name like 'Fiesta' onto a cheap economy car only serves to highlight everything it's lacking. The powers that be may have fooled us with the 'Clean Air Act' but there's no way to sugar coat a Ford Fiesta. And imagine the executives of Ford's early years trying to wrap their minds around their beloved brand's slow decline into the whirlpool that defined 1990s Detroit, when every brand was rushing to beat the others towards that elusive, bottom-barrel product.
Throw in the neglect this beat-up Fiesta has suffered and there's good reason these are few and far between these days.
Sources: Cult of Weird, Wikipedia, and Jalopnik.