Cheap Sh*t Bargain Birds

Page Two

Middle of the Road, Not-Dirt-Cheap-but-Short-of-Expensive Airplanes

The more we studied the lower tier prices the more we realized that $15,000 was a watershed price. We saw a reasonable number of airplanes in the $10-15,000 bracket but many of them were questionable because of either condition or engine time. As soon as we hit $15,000 and edged our way up to $20,000 the quality of the lower airplanes improved drastically and the availability of other types became much more pronounced. (Note from 2007: the foregoing numbers shold be $17,000-$22,000. They haven't changed much).

Naturally, as you move up in any kind of tiered situation like this, you simultaneously get the better of the lower tier airplane and the lower-quality airplanes from the next higher tier. In the $15-$20,000 tier, every airplane we’ve mentioned before is represented, but most of them have been recovered and/or have low time engines. Conversely the new airplanes that dropped down from the upper tier are higher time and lower quality.

Cessna 120/140
You don’t find many of Cessna’s famous precursor to the C-150 below $15,000, but there are bunches of good examples of the type just above $15,000. $16-$18,000 seems to be a magic bracket but there are lots of them well into the mid-to-high $20,000’s.

The 120/140 is a great little, all metal (fabric wings) flyer that is just a little slower and stodgier than the C-152, but is loads more fun. The 140A has the tapered, single-strut, all-metal wing of the 150, but the flaps are hinged, not Fowler flaps. Sometimes you can actually tell you have the flaps down: they aren’t very effective.
Tri-Pacer (PA-22)
The old Tri-Pacer is a good bang for the buck. The airplanes down in the $15,000 category are usually the smaller engine versions (125/135hp) or slightly ragged versions of the 150/160 hp models. The small engine airplanes don’t like big loads on hot days, but the later airplanes are great with two people and okay with four. The PA-20 is the tailwheel version of the same airplane although there are probably more Tri-Pacers modified to tailwheel than there are original Pacers left. The original Pacers had 125 hp and then went to 135. You’ll find a surprising number of small engine Pacers a thousand bucks either side of $15,000.
Piper Clipper (PA-16)
The Clipper was only produced in one year, 1949, and led the way for Piper’s entry into the more modern four-place market. It has the back door and back seat of the Tri-pacer, but it only has a 0-235 Lycoming in the nose, so it isn’t great as a four-place airplane. However, it has sticks, rather than wheels, which for many is a much more natural way to fly. You see them for sale regularly and except for the refurbished ones, they seem to like the $16-$18,000 range with a few dipping under the $15,000 barrier.
Piper Vagabond (PA-15/17)
The little Vagabond is as close to a big model airplane as you can get and has a stubby look that is pure short-wing Piper. The original gear was stiff, with no shocks and it trundled around with only 65 mph. The later PA-17 is the same airplane with sprung gear and marginally more power. This is a restorer’s favorite, so the cheap ones are beginning to disappear.
Grumman AA-1A,B,C
The earliest of the Grumman AA-1 series are a good buy at $15-$18K. For that amount of money, you’ll be getting one of the zippiest108/115 hp airplanes available. For some people, it’s a little too zippy, which is why the price is sometimes so low. The controls are extremely light and fighter-like and with the power back it comes down faster than some people like. However, don’t believe the oldwives tales about having to fly it fast to be safe. It’s just like every other airplane but it does everything more quickly…except climb.