The Top-10 Affordable Chevy Muscle Cars for College Students

It may be hard to believe but, growing up in the 21st Century has been difficult for the current generation. Despite having access to cell phones, internet, PS3s and 360s, life hasn’t exactly been easy. The current generation (commonly referred to as millennials) came of age during one of the worst recessions in US history. This has made life hard for them in several ways: most of them owe a minimum of $10,000 in college debt, which has decreased their spending power. Many of them cannot find part-time jobs, and thousands have had to move back home to live with Mom and Dad.


Probably a lot full of the least affordable cars for a college kid, but nothing’s wrong with dreaming big, right?

These factors have prevented many students in the current generation from being able to get into hot rodding. For those who have jobs, a different factor has prevented them from entering the hobby: rising car prices. Musclecar prices have skyrocketed over the last decade, cars such as ’69 Chargers, ’70 Chevelles, and ’67 Mustangs are too expensive for most millennials. Hell, they’re too expensive for most of generation X. Even the less sought after cars such as the Coronet, the Demons, and the Comet are too expensive.

These soaring prices have lead many college students into believing the only cars they can afford are Civics and Maximas. While these aren’t terrible cars, they aren’t musclecars. They lack the styling, the unlimited performance capabilities, and the soul that a musclecar has.

If you are a young student who day dreams of sending smoke into the air while doing burnouts, enjoys hearing the rumble of a V-8, who wants to drag race at stop lights, and dreams of picking up girls in your car, well you are in luck. We have found 10 affordable Chevy musclecars that will make all of these dreams become realitiy.

The cars we have chosen aren’t traditional 1960’s musclecars, however, they are powered by V-8s, American made and make excellent hot rod platforms. All of these cars can be bought for under $10,000 and most of them can be purchased for less than $5,000.

These 10 cars may not be the fastest things on the road in their stock form, as most of them make only 200 horsepower. But they also put out at least 300 lb/ft of torque. This is better performance than any stock Honda will provide. These cars look great, and they will be head turners at your campus.

10. 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2

You can consider the 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 the honorable mention on our list. The reason for this is while, these cars can be bought for an affordable price, they are extremely hard to find. The 1986 Grand Prix 2+2 was a performance package for the standard Grand Prix, and it was only in production in 1986. It was designed as a NASCAR for the road, much like the one Richard Petty drove. It is powered by a SBC 305 with a 4-barrel carb, with a 200R-4 four speed automatic transmission.

The 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 looks every bit like a Stock Car!

The 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 looks every bit like a Stock Car.

Why they make great musclecars: Don’t let it discourage you that the 305 only produces 150hp. Despite what many hot rodders say, the 305 can be built for decent performance and it can be done for peanuts. As with many GM cars powered by a V-8, a motor swap is possible.

Why they are great for college students: They are loud, fast and have a bitchin’ race car appearance. If you own a Grand Am it will be one of the coolest cars in the dorm parking lot. As we mentioned earlier, these cars are extremely hard to find, it’s believed there were only 1,200 to 2,000 sold. We were only able to find 2 of them for sale online: one in Long Island, New York, selling for $6,550 and another one in West Line, Missouri, selling for $9,900 – just under $10,000. If you manage to snare one of these, you will have the only one .

1986 Olds 4429. 1985-1987 Oldsmobile 442

The 1985-1987 are the forgotten 442s. While they aren’t as nice looking or as fast as their 1960s older sisters, they make affordable musclecars. These 442s left Detroit powered by a carbureted Olds 307 (5.0) that’s tied to a 200R4 transmission.

Why they make great musclecars: Olds 307 performance parts may seem hard to find but they exist. If you are struggling to find parts, a swap to an Olds 350 or Chevy 350 is easy and can be done. We recommend the Chevy as parts are more common, however, we would love to see more Olds powered hot rods.

1985 olds 442Why they are great for college students: Insurance costs are low, they have a roomy interior, and plenty of trunk space. However, the real reason these cars are great is because 442s are sexy cars. When idling at a stop light they look intimidating with their long sleek looks and black paint job. With a few mods a 442 can back up those looks with power during a stop light race.

8. 1982-1993 Chevy S-10

The Chevy S10 may not be a musclecar, however, it’s an affordable car for someone on a college budget. S10s can be made into a hot rod for a low price. Chevy S10s have gained a cult following among drag racers due to their durability, simplicity and the fact that they are rear wheel drive.

Who said trucks were boring?

Who said trucks were boring?

Why they make great musclecars: The S10 is equipped with a few different 5 speed manuals such as a Getrag, or a Muncie. Several S10s also left the factory equipped with the 700R4 automatic or the 4L60 transmissions. These transmissions make the S10 a great musclecar because a small block Chevy can bolt to them with no problem. If money is tight and a swap is not an option don’t panic. Many S10s came equipped with 4.3L (262 CID) V6 engine from the factory. This motor is known as the ¾ 350 because of it’s displacement, it’s a 350 missing two cylinders which means you can hop it up with 350 internals.

Why they are great for college students: Since they are pick up trucks, they have low insurance costs, decent gas mileage, and a truck bed. The bed makes moving easier and it can be used for other college activities as well. An S10 can be found in the price range of $1,000 to $4,000.

7. 1978-1983 Chevy Malibu

While it may not look as nice as the Malibu package for the Chevelle, the 1978-1983 Malibu is still a hot car. These Malibus left the factory equipped with the 305 and a lucky few of them have 350s under the hood.

Nothing fast here... Just my grandfathers car... with 400 horsepower!

Nothing fast here… Just my grandfathers car… with 400 horsepower.

Why they make great musclecars: The 305 and the 350 engines only produced 140 and 170 horsepower respectively. However, these low horsepower ratings shouldn’t be a problem for any hot rodder as these engines have enormous aftermarket suppliers that offer plenty of parts. She ain’t exactly a looker… she doesn’t look intimidating or fast, she looks more like an old man’s car. You can use these old man looks to your advantage, build up your Malibu and she will make a great sleeper car.

Why they are great for college students: Malibus are known for having large trunk space, plenty of back seat room and low insurance costs. They look like a hot rod with a cowl induction hood, drag radials and an exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear. You can find a great condition Malibu in the price range of $1500 to $5,000.

6. 1967- 1987 Chevy C10

Before you leave a comment below saying “The C10 isn’t a musclecar,” we know. While the C10 isn’t a musclecar it’s still an American classic that, as a student, is affordable. Purchasing a C10 is the easiest way to get a big block engine, though these are rare. The 1967-1987 Chevy C10 was available in a several different trims that contain a variety of small blocks and big blocks under the hood. These include the 305, the 327, the 350, the 396 and the legendary 454. These motors were tied to transmissions such as a Muncie 4 speed, TH400 or a 700R4.

Why they make great musclecars: Big V-8s and torque are the reasons why the C10 is on this list. All of the engines are easy to hot rod and thousands of articles exist to teach you how to do it. Besides go-power, these trucks are rugged and built tough which means they are perfect for either off roading or drag racing.

Why they are great for college students: C10s are great because they are masculine. They are big, mighty and they have that all-American look. Imagine how cool your C10 will look idling outside your dorm with its soft lines, cherry red paint, and it’s thumping 454. Believe us, it will look meaner than any car in the parking lot, especially compared to that frat boys Subaru parked next to it.

1985 Chevy C10

Chevy C10 are great vehicles not only for college students, but for soldiers as well. This car is owned by PFC. Josh Harkins, taken at Fort Hood, Texas.

5. 1974-1979 Chevy Nova

The 1974-1979 Chevy Nova is the ugly redhead step child of the 1968-1973 Nova. While she may not be pretty on the outside, inside she has a great personality that just needs to be unlocked. Under her hood sits a 350 that is tied a Muncie 4 speed or a TH400.

Why they make great musclecars: The 350 only makes an embarrassing 170 horsepower, however, this engine contains no electronics which means waking it up will be easy. The biggest killer of power is the stock cylinder heads, the moment you upgrade your heads, you will make some power.

Why they are great for college students: If you’re a student, the Nova will be perfect for you because it’s the closest thing to a classic musclecar that you can afford. You can find these cars for sale in the price range of $5,000 to $9,000. Despite her ugliness, after a couple of mods she will be a fun car to drive and will rival anything on the street. Think of the Nova as the VW Thing of musclecars, its ugliness is what makes it cool.

Think of this era Nova as the girl with the great personality...

4. 1978-1987 Chevy El Camino

El Camino: half car, half truck – all muscle. Sort of. In it’s stock form, the fifth generation El Camino could hardly roll off the assembly line as it was powered 3.3L V6 that put out a measly 95 horsepower. Even the optional 305 and 350 only had 155 and 170 horses, respectively. Most of these engines were mated with Tubro-Hydramatic 3 speeds though a few where tied to 4 speed manuals.

Why they make great musclecars: Thankfully, back in the 1930s a bunch of intelligent men discovered something known as hot rodding. Hot rodding will allow you to take your small blocks whimpy 170 HP and turn it into 300 horsepower. Like the Nova, the low power is caused by the dreaded OEM cylinder heads. We recommend purchasing a top end kit to combat this problem.

Why they are great for college students: From a college stand point El Caminos are built tough, have low insurance costs, and they look bitchin’. The El Camino’s musclecar face and its long sleek body gives it a killer appearance. Their unparalleled looks are what will make them the talk of the school. An El Camino can be found in the range of $3,000 to $5,000.

Here is what the El Camino looks like without and with the Monte Carlo bumper

3. 1981-1988 Chevy Monte Carlo

The 4th Generation Monte Carlo isn’t just a musclecar, it’s a stock car for the road. After sales hit an all time low in the 70s, GM redesigned the Carlo in ’81. This redesign along with several NASCAR wins, helped relaunch the Monte Carlo’s popularity the early 80s. The base model was powered by an assortment of V6 engines such as a 229 CI, a 3.8l Buick, and the 4.3L Chevy. The SS is the NASCAR for the road, as a 305 or a Goodwrench 350 lies under the hood . All of these engines are attached to a 200R4 automatic transmission.

Why they make great musclecars: If you have dreamed of winning at Talladega, or racing like Terry Labonte, a Monte Carlo is for you. If stock car racing isn’t your interest, that’s ok because the Monte Carlo also makes a great drag car. The SS’ 3.73 gears will allow you to really get lost.

Hottest car on Campus.

Hottest car on Campus.

Why they are great for college students: Thanks to Carlo’s sleek and soft lines you will have one of the best looking cars on campus. These cars are true American beauties. Imagine how cool it will be to cruise in your custom black Monte Carlo, with the windows down, and the hottest girl in school in your passenger seat. You can do this for $3,000 to $6,000.

2. Third Generation F-Bodies

The 3rd gen Camaro and Firebird are the ’57 Chevys of our generation. Like the ’57 Chevy, the 3rd gens rolled off the line in a few different trims with several engine options. These include the base models, the RS, Berlinetta, Z28, IROC-Z, Formula and Trans Am. The latter four are the Bel Airs of our generation. Instead of a 283 and a powerglide, under the hood sits a tuned port injection 305 (LB9), or 350 (L98) engine, tied to a 700R4 or Borg Warner T5 tranny . These engines put out 215 to 230 horsepower and 300 to 330 lb/ft of torque.

Why they make great musclecars: The 3rd Gen F-Bodies are the Rodney Dangerfields of cars – they get no respect. They have a bad rep for being slow. This is true but the ’57 Chevy wasn’t fast, either, until it was hot rodded. Isn’t the point of hot rodding to take a slow car and make it fast? In the 60s, guys would spend their weekends removing the Bel Air’s 283 and powerglide and replace them with a 327 tied to a Muncie. This same concept can be applied to 3rd gens. Instead of a 327, the engine will be an LT1 or an LS1, you don’t even have to change transmissions. If you do not have the room to perform a swap in your dorm parking lot, rodding the LB9 or the L98 will still bring your third gen power.

Why they are great for college students: These F-Bodies will be the hottest pieces of Detroit iron on campus. They will look great cruising down University Lane, with the basso profondo rumble of the engine filling the air with sweet music. Most importantly they will leave any piece of import plastic sitting in a cloud of dust at the light. Work night and day to save every nickel and dime you can to purchase one of these beauties, because in 10 years their value will skyrocket.

Our generation's 57 Chevy. They may not be the fastest cars in their stock form but they have potential. Photos by Keith and Josh Courter

1. Fourth Generation F-Bodies

The musclecar lives. Those are the famous words utterly spoken from the 1998 Pontiac Trans Am commercial and they couldn’t be more sincere. The 4th generation Camaro and Firebird launched the revival of fast American cars. These 90s F-bodies are their 1960s counter parts on steroids. The F-bodies were powered by the LT1 engine from1993-1997. The LT1 is a multiport fuel injected version of the 350 that produced anywhere from 275 to 300 horsepower and 325 lb/ft of torque. Starting in 1998 these cars were powered by the engineering marvel known as the LS1. The LS1 is designed to produce 300 to 330 horsepower and over 350 lb/ft of torque. Not only does this motor make power, it’s also capable of achieving 27 MPG on the highway. For all model years, the LT1 and the LS1 were bolted to either the 4L60E automatic or the Borg-Warner T-56 six speed manual.

Why they make great musclecars: Out of the box the 4th Gen is the best in terms of performance of the F-bodies. For a little more than $1,000 you can build yourself a 400 horsepower LT1 or LS1. As a hot rodder on a budget you won’t find a better deal than that. For little money, your 4th gen will be loud, fast, and intimidating.

Why they are great for college students: These cars are the definition of cool. They have a smooth yet aggressive appearance, high output motors, and a they are loud. Other perks include a large trunk space that rivals a Cadillac, a large interior that can seat a driver and 3 girls comfortably. Without a doubt, you will have the fastest car in the valley.


Our very own BlownZ 4th gen Camaro drag racer. So powerful it’s almost…scary.

Now that you are done reading this, call the owner of that Nissan Ultima back and tell him you are no longer interested. We have given you leads on 10 different musclecars, and you need to go hunt them down. Purchase one of these cars and start living the American dream.

About the author

Josh Courter

Josh Courter is a Power Automedia freelancer with a serious passion for anything custom. Rods, classics, sleds, and even motorcycles provide inspiration for Josh along with his passion for automotive history.
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