We’ve all seen the ads and auction reports- six figure prices paid for hemi powered muscle cars and Shelby Mustangs. 911’s going for more than they sold for new and $40k Triumph TR3s. $30k and more for vibrating old Indian and Harley iron that’d have trouble doing the freeway speed limit. And $5000 bicycles? So here is the first installment of the unofficial unauthorized Gearhead Grrrl guide to sleepers (underrated whatever than can be bought cheap). And for your amusement, a few sacred cows will be roasted.

Bicycles: When my Trek 7500 was wrecked by a careless four wheeler a couple years back I was saddened to find that bicycles with an american made frame start at around $2k and rise to the stratosphere. And even thousand buck bikes are usually made in some Chinese sweatshop. But Bike Friday makes bikes in the great state of Oregon, and they fold up for easy transport to boot. Prices start around a thou for basic but servicable components up to Dura Ace gruppo’d models. And performance wise, little is lost to the small wheels and folding frame- It’s rigid as all get out and I did a metric century on mine with little more effort than on my Teledyne Titan road bike. Or shop around for a classic lugged steel frame bike from the 60s and 70s, or even an old American made classic like a Trek 720- not every seller has caught “classic fever” and thinks their old PX-8 is worth $2000.

Motorcycles: First off, forget about anything with the “Harley” name on it- They were overpriced to start with (30% profit margin for HOG(NYSE) plus 30% markup for the dealer), and even though the market’s saturated they’re still overpriced, and will be ’til they drop to scrap metal prices. But the sleepers are everwhere- if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel the countryside is littered with Japanese bikes from the 70s and 80s that were ridden a bit and then forgotten. Hopefully forgotten in at least a shed with oil in the engine, but there’s so many of them you can find a good one to ride and a bunch more neglected ones for parts. A lot of poverty riders rate the Japanese 4 stroke twins as bulletproff, with a few exceptions. Or how about a classic like Yamaha’s Vision or triples, or Honda’s CXs and Silver Wings? Got a bit more to spend… R65s are the sleepers of BMWs, and the going price for a decent example ready to ride is around $2000. For that you get great parts availability, an understressed drivetrain that will probably outlive you, and the Airheads- the best online and virtual support system in all of gearheaddom. Or maybe a Moto Guzzi- powered by a for real tractor engine and developed rather than obsoleted since the 60s. Other than some rarer older models, Guzzis are most reasonably priced, even the new ones.

Cars: Sure, you can nip down to Scottsdale in your executive jet this winter and lay out a six figure amount of petty cash for a muscle car or Shelby. Well, maybe not… I don’t think I could even afford a netjets.com membership, and I own stock in the company. And I suspect more than a few of those muscle cars are faked- Back in the 60s the manufacturers maybe told NHRA or NASCAR that they were building hundreds of “homologation specials” to meet the minimum production numbers required by the racing bodies to qualify as “production” cars. Nobody was watching, so the manufacturers often hand built the race cars and then faked the paperwork, claiming they’d built hundreds on their assembly lines. Today, that bogus paperwork makes it possible for a cottage industry of “restorers” to build (and profitably sell) the “production” race cars the factory never did.

So why pay for a fake supercar or ponycar, when you can buy a real one for a fraction of the price. Let’s start with supercars… Sure, Mopar built a limited number of 426 Hemis and they ain’t building any more… But ever hear of a 440 “B” body or a 340 Duster or Barracuda? They were competitive with the Hemi then, and still are. Also giving the Hemi headaches on the the tracks and streets were the 427 and 428 Cobra Jet Fords, 327 350 HP Novas, and rat motored Chevelles and full size Chevies. The landscape is littered with those engines, and GM will even sell you a brand new rat or mouse motor in the crate, same for Ford with their small blocks. So you buy a clean first generation Nova cheap, drop in a small block V8 with appropriate drivetrain and front disc brakes for safety… And you’ve got a sleeper that’ll run with a Hemi on the strip and a Z28 in the twisties! Lookin’ for a ponycar but put off by the six figure price of a Shelby? Well, the priciest, the GT350, was nothing more than a warmed over V8 Mustang and built on the same assembly line. Build your own, but even garden variety V8 ‘stangs are overpriced. There were at least four (five if you count the Studebaker Hawk) ponycars in the 60s… Every hear of American Motor’s Javelin? Or it’s stubbied up 2 seat sister, the AMX, that competed with the “vette? Or the Barracuda or the Camaro’s Firebird twin? Yup, cheap ‘n’ chearful, and was and still is competitive with the Shelbys and even Corvettes. Back in the 60s and 70s on the racetracks all four of these ponycars were pretty evenly matched, and still are today… ‘Cept the lesser known ones are still affordable. And want a poor man’s Porsche- 2nd generation Corvairs are still dirt cheap, add a few upgrades like tires and disc brakes and enjoy a GT car on a budget!

Work trucks: OK, you really need a truck and even the stripped 3/4 ton diesel pickups are going for $40k and up new. Dear taxpayer, you’re eligible for a refund- the best deals in trucks are used government ones. Well maintained, often spending more time in the garage than on the road, and often the only notice of sale is an obscure notice in agate type in the back pages of the paper or some government website. Look for what you need in the government’s fleets, then wait for it to come up for auction… And pounce!

To be continued…

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