When it seems that every car that rolls off of the line is a cookie cutter copy of the rest, it usually takes a special-edition model or trim to make that car special. Whether the build is limited to only a few thousand copies or the car doesn't sell as well as expected, forcing the company to shut down production early, there are examples of rare cars all around us, cruising right under our noses without anyone so much as glancing at them because they don't stand out very much.
When doing the research for this article, we took into consideration what would be normally considered affordable and concluded that under $30,000 (or about the price of a new compact car with a little extra to account for the inflated prices people put on their cars just because they're rare). Speaking of such, we have also followed the rule that anything with less than 10,000 units initially produced in one year is rare and we're not splitting hairs too much by getting into how many cars had a specific option or color. Keeping it simple with trims and specific models that for some reason or another are harder to see around town than others.
There are plenty of affordable rare cars hiding on Kelley Blue Book, just waiting for an eagle-eyed buyer to find them.
25 2011 Saab 9-5 - $24,999
This isn't the 9-5 we all know from Saab that came out in the late-1990s. This Saab was made under the GM rule and was originally supposed to be nothing more than a lightly rebodied and rebadged Impala. The 9-5 Saab released, however, resembled nothing like the classic icon, nor were the features the same and it wasn't even the same size as the Impala. These cars were sold from 2010 to 2012 and Saab only produced 3,419 examples. This one we found is a top-of-the-line Aero XWD version for about $25,000 and that is a very affordable cost for a car that only had 13 examples produced just like it.
24 1991 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo - $5,995
The sportier, fourth-generation Toronado was at the end of its rope when this Trofeo came out. The Trofeo was nothing but a more aggressive body kit and some luxurious bits added onto the stock Toronado. This Trofeo is advertised with zest and the ad includes many exclamation points to try and get people excited about a car that they most likely haven't heard of. Only 8,053 of these Trofeos were made that year, which may seem like a lot but with how these old 80s GM models go, there isn't many left and even less survive every year, and they go for about $6,000
23 1982 AMC Eagle Limited Two-Door - $2,250
Show of hands, who still remembers that the AMC Eagle came in a two-door and that it could not be a Sunrunner? While we're at it, who remembers the Sunrunner? This may not be the most beautiful nor the most original car, but it's a surviving example of only 1,968 made in the final year of this model. While the Eagle station wagon has slowly gained notoriety for being the grandfather of the model day crossover. The two-door coupe variant has been all but forgotten since the ur-Quattro led the rise of AWD coupes. Declining sales may have punished the aspiring AMC company, but for just over $2,000, someone can have a piece of history.
22 1995 BMW 840Ci - $9,000
It may not be the much more desirable, V12-powered 850CSi, but the eight-cylinder 840Ci has the stellar looks of its more powerful sister. This is not to say you can't find an 850CSi—but those go for upwards of $90,000 while the 840Ci goes for 10% of that. The 8-Series served as the top of the range for BMW buyers who wanted more than their other models. The 8-Series was more powerful, more refined, and aimed to be more comfortable while you speed down the Autobahn, keeping up with some of the supercars of the era.
21 2005 Chrysler Crossfire SRT6 - $11,995
The much-debated Crossfire is the only SRT6 we'll ever see. Whether you love it or hate it, it exists and it is fairly rare. Only 2,419 were made of this particular trim in the SRT6's first production year. The Crossfire is well known for being a little lackluster and sales showed that with the sophomore year sales plummeting to only a third of what was being sold in 2005. The SRT6 may have not lasted a long time, but it is only a matter of time before prices start to really pick up; until then, you can find a healthy example for around $12,000.
20 2001 Chrysler Prowler - $23,500
This one is set to be a classic, having been during the age where companies were experimenting with working old-school design cues into newer fiberglass. Plymouth released this cat. The Prowler is perhaps the most radical looking of the bunch and was Plymouth's swan song before the company closed in 2001. Parent company Chrysler then took on the strange roadster and labeled it as their own until the car was discontinued the following year. These final two years may be more obscure and rare than a regular Prowler due to the rebadging and only 3,142 were made in 2001 and about half of that in 2002.
19 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce - $9,800
It's hard to mess with perfection designed by the man himself, Battista Farina (Founder of Pininfarina), and the Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider lasted an almost 30-year production run and remained largely unaltered throughout the whole time. The Veloce was the top trim-line for the Spider; that was until the QV (Quadrifoglio Verde) was introduced in 1986, which had the same motor as the Veloce but a hard-top and more aerodynamic body. Only 7,215 Veloces were made in 1991, making this $10,000 example a real treat for an Alfa enthusiast.
18 2013 Audi TT RS - $29,900
I'm aware that these things are still being made today but for about half the price, you can buy a first-generation TT RS. The RS trim line comes standard with the Quattro configuration and a bunch more go-fast bits, such as close-ratio six-speed transmission hooked up to a turbocharged five-cylinder. A more upgraded TT RS Plus later came out, giving the TT more power and a better top speed. The one we get for sale, however, is at the top of our budget—at $29,900—which isn't a bad price for something that can embarrass a Porsche.
17 1999 Isuzu VehiCROSS - $12,000
I've seen prices on these skyrocket in recent years, so anyone who wants one might want to act now. These little freaks of engineering came to be in 1997 and came to us here in the States in 1999. Only 5,958 vehicles were built until the VehiCROSS was discontinued in 2001. The only thing that is harder to find would be the Ironman Edition, of which only 86 or so were made out of the projected 1,000. It's a shame we couldn't find one of those and instead will have to settle for the regular VehiCROSS, which now that I've said it, isn't really all that regular.
16 1990 Lotus Esprit SE - $25,499
The legendary Esprit debuted in 1976 but it took 13 years for the SE trim to come around and it was only sold in small numbers. The following year when this black example came out, there were only 1,608 made alongside it. There isn't much to the description of the ad besides the fact that the car comes with a documented history, which is always a plus. I think it would be good enough to pick it up for around the $25,000 asking price before the Esprit gets any more valuable.
15 1991 Lotus Elan - $19,500
I've spoken about both the Kia Elan and Vigato in previous articles about rebadged rarities but the original Lotus Elan is a rarity itself, with only a few thousand produced throughout its run. This 1991 example is one of only 3,855 built that year and they can be found here and there for around $20,000 to $25,000. That's not a bad price for a relatively unknown Lotus that could almost be confused for a full-sized Esprit; instead of the V6 or V8, however, the Elan comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder deceivingly driving the front wheels.
14 1990 Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible - $6,000
The Dakota has gained a spotty reputation for being either a wicked cool idea or just flat out useless. The Dakota may not have been the first nor the last convertible pickup but it certainly raises eyebrows when spotted around town. Dodge had given ASC some of their compact Dakotas to be transformed into convertibles and 2,842 were made in 1989 and a mere 909 for 1990. To complete their contract, a further nine were made in 1991. The example we found was one of the 909 made in 1990 and despite what people say, the prices are steadily rising, with this example being appraised for $11,000. Due to the truck not being in absolutely perfect condition, it is selling for $6,000.
13 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbocharged - $8,900
Being first offered in 2005, the Cobalt SS came first with a supercharger until that was replaced by this turbocharged example, which lasted the rest of production until 2010. Only 1,766 SS Cobalts were produced with SS badges in 2008 and only around 4,000 in 2009. Also, to further narrow down the production numbers, only 188 out of the 1,766 were painted this shade of red. These little 260-hp rockets may have come a little late to the tuner party, but GM certainly made an instant classic that has yet to be appreciated and should be swiped up quick while they're still fairly cheap.
12 2012 Fisker Karma - $36,000
So this one may be a little out of our affordability realm at $36,000 but stay with us. To find a surviving Fisker is nothing short of a miracle. It's no secret that some of them were defective, but this surviving example is only going to serve as an all original example of the company that could've been. Also, it is most likely going to be a fraction of the price of the new Karma Revero. This low-mileage example is priced fairly for the type of visual stimulation the Karma brings to any parking lot and highway.
11 1987 Pontiac Fiero - $3,000
I'll go and say it, the Fiero is really under-appreciated. Sure, it was no MR2 and it may not even be GMs first shot at the rear-engined design (that title goes to the Corvair). Even less-appreciated is the SE trim, which was the most desirable Fiero trim. Original Fieros like this are slowly dwindling because inexperienced drivers wreck them and from the ones who rather prefer a Ferrari that they cannot afford otherwise. Scoop up these strange little Pontiacs while they're still around and the prices are basement bargains and also, please note how the GT trim prices are already rising past $10,000.
10 2001 Honda Prelude - $3,995
I know, how can something as popular as the Prelude possibly be on this list? Well, according to Automotive Intelligence's chart on Honda model sales from 1999 to 2002, only 9,462 Preludes were made in 2001 (with even less made in 2002). This low-mileage example is one of the best kept fifth-gen Preludes out there and is still very affordable at $15,000. That price may be a little scary considering we're talking about a Prelude but these cars are starting to become classics and a little nostalgic since they don't make anything like it anymore, not even an Accord Coupe. We can't help but wonder what will become of these cars in the future but with examples like these hanging around, things look promising.
9 2014 Cadillac CTS Wagon - $8,500
Sure, it's not the ultra-exclusive and wildly talked about CTS-V Wagon that was offered for only a couple years in the mid-2010s. But the normal CTS may not be as rare as the other Corvette V8-powered trim line but it is just as rare, all the same. Throughout the entire run, only around 7,000 were produced and only another 378 in 2014. The CTS-V goes for around $45,000 on the cheap side while the normal Wagons, however, go for less than $10,000. For those who love the looks of the wagon, this is very achievable.
8 1989 Mercury Cougar XR7 - $10,000
Another familiar model that otherwise wouldn't be believed to be on a list like this, the sister car to the Thunderbird Super Coupe. These Cougar XR7s came with a Supercharged 3.8-liter V6 with all sorts of additional options such as electric everything and four-wheel disc brakes. This particular XR7 comes with a five-speed manual in place of the optional automatic that could've been had. For $10,000, this isn't a bad example of a largely forgotten car, of which only 4,463 were made that year. Desirable, maybe not; but cheap rare collector car it is, indeed.
7 2004 Isuzu Axiom XS - $6,000
Towards the end of Isuzu's time in the US, they sold this striking SUV. The Axiom wasn't a big seller in the first place and only lasted a few years before Isuzu started moving out of the domestic marketplace. Only 3,153 Axioms were made for the 2004 model year and as we would suspect, even less came in XS trim. According to the listing, the Axiom still turns heads 15 years on because either people don't know what it is or think it's a lot newer than it is.
6 1995 Mitsubishi 3000GT (GTO) VR4 Spyder - $25,500
This is a guaranteed classic, no doubt. The Mitsubishi 3000GT is well known for being one of the most unique and technologically advanced cars of the 90s. The only thing that would make it cooler (and a lot heavier) is to chop the top off and add a foldable hardtop to it. This example is at the top of the food chain with complete documentation and a life of being well taken care of. If the best costs around $25,000, then every other of the 520 made is more affordable than this one and anyone who aspires to own one of these insanely rare and desired models can while they're still available at such prices.
5 1997 Subaru SVX - $12,000
From one of the most known AWD models to one of the least known, the Subaru SVX didn't come as a convertible but rather as a strangely designed hard-top with little slide-down windows. There's one of these that hangs around my town and just sitting in it is an experience of its own. The flat-six SVX is the last true Subaru-built sports coupe that was built to display all Subaru had under an interesting Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed shell. The 1997 model was the final sales year, with only 640 produced that year, and this one is a brilliant example of not only the last of its kind but also of a Subaru sports coupe as it should be: just as strange as Subaru themselves.
4 1999 Shelby Durango SP360 - $28,000
One of the precursors to the performance SUV, alongside the Saleen Explorer and GMC Typhoon, the supercharged 360ci V8-powered Durango was the last project completed by Shelby for Dodge. All examples were painted Viper Blue with White LeMans stripes down the center and featured specific chrome rims. A projected 300 were supposed to be built for the 1999 model year but some sources ping the number at something closer to 200 instead, making this sale particularly special to Mopar fans looking for something not many people have. At $28,000, these performance-based SUVs are only getting more valuable and soon will be out of reach for us normal folk.
3 1984 Ford Mustang SVO - $10,000
It's not very often we hear about a rare fox-body Mustang on this website. Equivalent to buying an SVT Mustang these days, the SVO was a performance packed version of the Mustang that also claimed to be the most expensive at the time. The SVO came with a 2.3-liter, turbocharged inline-four which was smaller in size compared to the legendary 5.0-liter V8. What made the SVO faster wasn't more power—as they both made the same 200-hp figure—but the power-to-weight ratio was a lot better and as such, made this Fox-body the better handling and more efficient option among the two.
2 1999 Ford Taurus SHO - $4,500
The other performance Ford sleeper on this list, the SHO has since garnered a reputation for being inconspicuous while still remaining quick. This couldn't be truer for the 1999 SHO and the bubbly appearance doesn't give away the monster living in the engine bay. The Cosworth engine block had heads built by Yamaha on it and made 235 horsepower through an automatic transmission only. With only 3,368 made in 1999, finding one for $4,500 isn't a bad deal for a strange looking rocket.
1 1985 Shelby Omni GLH - $19,000
The GLH served as Dodge's mainstream hot hatch to compete with the successful Rabbit GTI. As much as Chrysler cars weren't known for their speed in the 1980s, the Omni GLH and GLHS put the Pentastar brand on a world stage for its stellar performance in a time where the Corvette was a shadow of its former glory. This pristine example is for the right price as these older hot hatches gain notoriety as being the forefathers of the turbocharged four-cylinder movement we're seeing all around us today. Only 3,509 were made in 1985 and to find one in such fine condition is a sight to behold the more sought after these cars become.
Sources: Allpar, Auto Intel, Cars Sales Base.