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BENNINGTON, VT-- Want to buy an old special interest automobile but haven't done so because you think it'll take a winning Lotto ticket to get you into the driver's seat of something unique? Well, think again.

Special Interest Autos magazine editor Richard Lentinello has come up with five eminently affordable automobiles for the publication's 2002 "Sleepers'' choices. For less than $10,000 there's a whole bunch of forgotten cars that will provide similar motoring thrills and memories, albeit at substantially less cost than say a letter-series Chrysler or Tri-Powered Catalina, for literally ten cents on the dollar. They're cheap to buy and fun to run, and they will soon be highly sought-after collectibles just a short jaunt down the road into the future.

When selecting "sleepers,'' two basic criteria are followed. First, the car must be available for under $10,000. Second, except for truly exceptional cars, at least two or three years of the same model should have been produced to broaden the collector's chance of finding a good example.

So, for the year 2002, our top five "Sleeper'' picks are:

1967-69 Ford Thunderbird
Price range: $3,000 - $7,000

Always overlooked when compared to its older, smaller siblings, the 1967 model was the first four-door Thunderbird ever produced, making it a hallmark design in T-Bird history. This new-for-'67 styling featured a very contemporary looking oval front-end treatment with full-width grille and hidden headlamps. Available in either 2- or 4-door body styles, these handsome hardtops could accommodate four adults in cozy comfort. The distinctive four-door models had rear 'suicide' opening doors that included part of the rear C-pillar of the Landau roof when opened. Under the long hood resided a torquey 390-cubic-inch V-8 that developed 275hp in standard two-barrel Holley trim or 315hp with a four-barrel. Each model provides today's owners with stylishly distinctive good looks, reliable mechanicals and gobs of power -- all in an affordable package that's tough to beat.

1970-72 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Price range: $2,000 - $6,000

Its combination of outstanding Dave Holls styling and small-block Chevy power makes the first-generation Monte Carlo one of the cleanest looking postwar American cars ever built. With its air of understated elegance, these five-passenger hardtop coupes provide a pleasant ride quality coupled with decent road holding and spirited acceleration thanks to a 250-hp, 350-cubic-inch V-8 under its long hood. With 439,393 first-generation Monte Carlos produced during its three-year production run, there are plenty of decent examples to choose from. But if you have a few extra grand to spend, go for the SS version with the potent 454-cubic-inch V-8; its 360-hp big-block transformed this classy looking cruiser into a real high-performance road burner that is nearly as fast as the far more pricey big-block Chevelles.

1972-76 AMC Gremlin "X" w/V-8
Price range: $2,000 - $6,000

Weighing 2,746 lbs. and packing a 150-horsepower 5-liter V-8 under the hood, the 1972 Gremlin 'X' made an ideal entry-level ``muscle car'' for those on a budget. With its distinctive chopped-back styling and short wheelbase, the 'X' separated itself from all the other run-of-the-mill Gremlins by having a painted grille, special side stripes, custom bucket seats, 15-inch sport steering wheel, and 14 x 6 slotted wheels with raised white lettered radials. For such a compact sporty coupe the Gremlin can accommodate four adults in decent comfort, while go-fast goodies from the aftermarket can transform this forgotten AMC grocery-getter into a respectable road rocket. In short, the 'X' is one of the most unusual V-8-powered collectibles that every old car enthusiast can afford.

1978-81 Volvo Bertone 260 coupe
Price range: $4,000 - $8,000

With such attributes as Italian styling, outstanding build quality and a limited production run, Volvo's Bertone coupe has all the makings of a future collectible. Based upon the rugged 240 chassis but powered by an overhead-cam V-6 in either 125-hp (2,664cc) or 130-hp (2,849cc) form, this handsome chop-top coupe showcased Bertone's vision of what a luxury two-door Volvo sedan intended for the sporting upper class should look like. The well-appointed cabin features ultra-soft, hand-stitched Italian leather with door trim made of elm veneer. All early examples were produced in silver with a black vinyl roof and interior, while later examples could be ordered in gold with a black vinyl roof and brown leather. They're rugged, reliable, durable, and have that unique combination of Volvo safety and Bertone design, something no other car in this price range can offer.

1989-91 Chrysler TC by Maserati
Price range: $8,000 - $12,000

If you always lusted after an exotic Italian sports car with a name that ends in 'i,' but never had the money to park one of these pricey gems in your garage, there's an alternative that most enthusiasts can afford. It's called the Chrysler TC. Styled by Chrysler, the TC is based on a Le Baron chassis that was sent to Maserati where it was shortened and the entire body shell assembled by hand, including a special hood. After Maserati installed the drivetrain, the cars were shipped back to America. Three engines were available in its short three-year life span: 160-hp 2.2-liter Turbo four, 200-hp 16-valve twin-cam, or a 141-hp 3.0-liter Mitsubishi V-6. But regardless which version you choose, they were all built with independent rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 15-inch alloys, a power-operated removable hardtop, and genuine Italian leather upholstery. Although priced at the top end of our $10,000 price cap, several of these unique convertibles can still be found in the four-figure range. With a total production run of only 7,300, that's one rare Italian-American hybrid that almost anyone can afford.

Since 1954, Hemmings Motor News has served the collector-car hobby as its primary trading place and currently carries over 800 pages of hobby advertising each month to a paid circulation of nearly 260,000 and readership over 500,000. Loaded with tens of thousands of classified and display ads for collector cars, trucks and motorcycles, parts and services, clubs and events, and other hard-to-find resources for the hobbyist, Hemmings has become indispensable to the collector car enthusiast.

Along with the monthly Hemmings Motor News and bi-monthly Special Interest Autos, the company also publishes the Hemmings' Vintage Auto Almanac, the world's most complete directory for the collector-car hobby and industry, as well as Hemmings Rods & Performance, a magazine for street rod enthusiasts.

Hemmings also offers a complete line of ancillary products, which includes an extensive line of die-cast models, vintage-vehicle calendars, books, and clothing, all available by phone or online.

For online hobbyists, the award-winning web site http://www.hemmings.com, has greatly expanded its information franchise, offering an online database of over 30,000 searchable ads for cars, parts, tools, supplies and services plus a host of new features, including Car Club Central, a unique Online Car Show, and an Online Dealer Showroom, featuring the collector-car inventories of over 80 classic car dealers coast to coast.

[SOURCE: Hemmings Motor News]
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