By on May 1, 2012

After last week’s Time Machine Dilemma (in which you emerged from your time machine in 1973, on Auto Row and with enough cash to buy a new Ford LTD), I thought of doing a 1974 Oil Crisis Diminished Expectations Economy Car Time Machine Dilemma. However, the really challenging econobox-shopping decisions came a bit more than a decade later, when the Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV arrived in a marketplace full of Japanese subcompacts duking it out for supremacy and Detroit trying to stay relevant. Yes, 1986! So, you exit your time machine in front of the Chevrolet dealership with $5,645 in your pocket. That’s enough to buy a new Chevette at full list price (the out-the-door-price would almost certainly be lower, but we’ll go with MSRP for this exercise). Do you get the antiquated-but-simple rear-drive Chevy for your penny-pinching commuter… or something else? Let’s look at your choices.
It turns out that the Chevette (which was on its second-to-last model year in 1986) was priced higher than much of its competition. How much higher? Let’s take a look at some prices for ’86 Chevette competitors, according to the prices in the Standard Catalogs or the NADA Classic Cars site.


But first, we’ll look at an example of Chevette pricing in action. Here’s an ad for the ’85 Chevette, which listed at $5,340. Yep, $4,993. Just keep that in mind when you start looking for a place to spend your $5,645 in 1986.

Chevrolet Sprint: $5,380
Dodge/Plymouth Colt E: $5,372
Honda Civic hatchback: $5,479
Hyundai Excel: $4,995
Mazda 323: $5,645
Nissan Sentra: $5,499
Pontiac 1000: $5,749
Subaru Justy STD: $4,989
Toyota Tercel hatchback: $5,448
Yugo GV: $3,990

Having owned quite a few ’86 Tercels and Civics, I think I’d buy… the Mazda 323. The Tercel would last forever, regardless of abuse, and the Civic would get 45 MPG, but the 323s of this era were more fun to drive and held together pretty well.

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93 Comments on “Time Machine Dilemma: It’s 1986 and You Have Enough Money For a New Chevette. What Do You Buy?...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    This is an easy question!

    I’d do exactly as I did in 1986: Buy the incredibly gorgeous 1984 Chrysler E-Class gunmetal blue & silver two-tone sedan that we did buy!

    One of the few cars I’d wished I’d kept a bit longer than 8 years…

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Why do people do this? The exercise wasn’t to buy a used car. The mental gymnastics revolve around new cars. If no boundaries exist, then we could all say we’d rather buy XYZ used car for the same money and make the discussion rather irrelevant. I’d do the 323, as well…although I couldn’t argue against the dead-cold reliable Tercel…

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “Why do people do this? The exercise wasn’t to buy a used car.”

        Because buying a used car *is* a viable alternative to buying a new car. It comes with a number of trade-offs (you pay less up front, but pay more for maintenance), but it’s a reasonable alternative that every new-car buyer should consider. The right answer varies depending on the situation.

        The kind of person who reads car blogs and likes to tinker with cars on weekends likely “wins” by having a used car.

        I think it’s a worthwhile suggestion.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        @Luke42

        I believe the idea is to pick the best *new* vehicle, otherwise you’d be looking at things like high mile Panteras that have been in a minor end-o. (At least, I would be.)

      • 0 avatar
        Omnifan

        Wasn’t it the late Roger Smith who said: “A two year old Buick is a better buy than a new econobox.”?

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        “Why do people do this?”

        I can only offer my experience:

        When I told my wife about this car, and when we went to the Dodge dealer up the street to take it for a test-drive, wifey said that we somehow MUST find a way to buy this car.

        For the $6500 we spent, we could not have gotten anything near what we got. Why buy another new stripper Reliant when we could have a baby Cadillac for less money? This was a drop-dead beautiful car and incredibly comfortable, too, plus, still under factory warranty. At the time, foreign cars were simply out of the question, and I was very angry at GM. Ford? Nah…

  • avatar
    JCraig

    Absolutely agree with the 323! We had an 88 323 sedan as teenagers in the late 90’s that my brothers and I abused before getting our own cars. It really took a lot of neglect and crazy driving, looked better than most econo boxes at the time (IMO, and my old lady neighbor asked if it was a BMW…). Even after finally clanking away and bellowing smoke with who knows how many miles it never let us down!

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      Beat me to it. I had an 89 that I beat mercilessly with no issue, until I slid it into a curb hard enough to point all 4 wheels in different directions and make the hatch not open.

      My only hesitation with the ’86 would be the lack of fuel injection, but I guess those were the times.

      • 0 avatar
        erik_t

        Many 1986 323s had fuel injection. I do not know if they all did in the North American market.

      • 0 avatar
        Feds

        Alright, anecdotal evidence in the posts below mean I’ll have to clarify: All US 323’s were injected. Canadian cars could be had with a carburetor all the way up to 1987. Injected cars were badged as 323i’s.

        I didn’t realize it was a regional difference. Car-part.com set me straight.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        +1 for the 323. Best car for the money. A friend’s dad had one and he towed a (very) small van body utility trailer full of polka-band gear. It never let them down – winter or summer.

        Another friend had one of the last Chevettes. It served her and her young family faithfully for many years. But then she was within walking distance to work, so it was only used for grocery getting, doctor’s check-ups and such.

      • 0 avatar
        JCraig

        Now that all the memories are brought back… It was actually an ’87 Mazda 323 DX 1.6i. All that badging on the back trunk lid made me think it must be good haha. I thought it was still a modern looking econobox by the 90’s. It managed to feel peppy and nimble even with a 3 speed auto. The others of the era aged much more quickly IMO.

  • avatar
    th009

    That $5479 Civic was the most modern car of the bunch, and would have been my clear choice if the cap was set at the Chevette’s MSRP.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Absolutely. The ’86 Civic Si with the port fuel injected 16 valve motor, was just leagues ahead of everything on this list. There is no contest.

      The Chevy Sprint though, rates an honorable mention because of its Mini-Cooper like sportiness.

      • 0 avatar

        The Civic Si cost more like 7 grand, so it isn’t on the list. The Civic on the list is the cruelly bare-bones, zero-options car.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        And the base-model Civic in that year was carburated, with the gordian-knot vacuum hose diagram that Murilee has posted a few times.

        I had a 1980 GLC hatchback for a short time, and it was more fun to drive than any of the 80s Civics that I owned (but I had the sedans so that’s not quite a fair comparison).

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The only worse cars on that list are the Yugo and Justy.

    Anyone paying top dollar for a 1000 was crazy.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    The only things going for the Chevette against that competition is that it was RWD and fairly roomy from what I remember.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      And you could stick a SBC in one, I remeber a few guys in my AO slapping them together and reading about a few BBC conversions as well (those seemed to be full tube fram efforts though).

      Sigh… now I’m all nostalgic for my 77 Old’s Starfire – Loved the Monza/Starfire/Skyhawk/Astre varaints, a few came with V8s which made it really easy to slip one in and as a bonus this was one of GM’s first cars to feature a torque arm suspension.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I’m surprised there was no Omni or Horizon America offered in the price range. I was basically in the market for a super cheap car in the summer of ’87, so I considered these options. I had a strong animosity for Honda at the time, but there was no getting around the superiority of the third generation Civic over pretty much anything else on the market at the time. Unfortunately, American Honda was run by crooks, and Japanese product plans and model offerings didn’t have much to do with what Honda dealers stocked or what they sold them for. That sub-$6,000 price leader Civic DX didn’t make it my local lots, and the salesmen I spoke to basically put all their effort into convincing me that the 4-speed, base model Civic was unfit for highway use. Real Civics that you could buy started north of $10,000. I wound up with a Festiva L 4-speed, which the Ford dealer was smart enough not to talk me out of. Mind you it failed its one year state inspection at that same Ford dealer on three safety areas, but that’s a story for another time.

  • avatar
    BobAsh

    Well, 1986 was the first time I assisted with buying a new car, and I even had my say. I was two, the car was a Skoda 105S (aka Estelle in the free world) and I got to pick the color.

    I picked the beige.

    The other choice was grayish green…

    • 0 avatar
      p4nya

      I also have my first “new car buying experience” memory from 1986. I was four and remember going to the big city and picking up mom’s new Pontiac Grand Am. 5 spd, 4 cyl, dark green coupe. Seemed pretty nice back then, not the rental fodder/trailer park queens they became in the later years. Not sure what the MSRP was for one of those though…

  • avatar

    I’d buy a used S-10 pickup with V6 and a stick.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Once again, I’d opt for a small pick up. The Ford Ranger.

    There is a reason why small pick up trucks sold so well during these years and why we saw a morphing of a SUV boom immediately after.

    For the price, you couldn’t beat a small pick up over any of these vehicles. A four cylinder manual was economical. A small pick up was a better value. The interiors were better suited for men. There was a box that could be capped to haul delicate stuff, or left wide open for everything else.

    Insuring a small pick up was a better value as well.

    In 1986, a small economical pick up was a better value. The resale was better later on as well.

    The Chevette was a decade old hell hole by this time. Everything on this list was better than it, except the Yugo.

  • avatar
    Feds

    What were truck prices like back then? I’d be mightily tempted by a BroncoII, Montero, Trooper, or Cherokee, depending on how cheaply I could get one out the door.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    No love for the Omni Horizon I see. At the time I was driving one, an 83. The only option was the AM radio. Much better than their reputation. Had it for 8 years, Salt was it’s biggest enemy. “sold” it to a young married friend of my sons. They drove it two more years till the corroded shift lever came out in their hand. Oh, I also put a clutch in it after 7 yrs. My first and last FWD clutch job.

    • 0 avatar

      My first car was a totalled ’84 Horizon Automatic my dad and I put back together. One time a friend and I hit some black ice and plowed down a exit ramp sign, the only thing damaged on the car was the bumper mount collapsed and needed to be replaced. The engine in the thing was tough to start when it was cold and wasn’t all that reliable but I’ll attribute that to the condition we got it in. 3 years later my sister ended up getting an ’86 Horizon manual and hardly had any problems with it.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      The MSRP for a base Omni was $6209 in 1986, which puts it out of the running. The value-priced “America” models didn’t come along until 1987.

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    What would it have cost me to buy a 1980 Volvo 242 DL in 1986? The MSRP in 1980 would have been $7700, so it’s entirely possible to be well below the set price point. Even with a 6-year penalty, it’d probably still outlast all but the Tercel or Civic. I am ever the used car buyer, and faced with 5k and a car purchase I’d choose “none of the above” for that list… although I suppose I’d have gone with the Tercel, as that seems like the next most durable option, and gas prices would stay (relatively) low for quite a while. $0.93 in 1986?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Well if we don’t have to buy new… I’d go searching for the cleanest lowest mileage late 60s Oldsmobile Toronado I could find and afford.

    If I had to buy new I could go get an STD from Subaru! (Wait that doesn’t sound right…)

    Likely the Civic because at least the gearbox will be sweet as a I row the heck out of it to try to wring power from my tiny little commuter.

  • avatar
    erik_t

    My folks faced exactly this dilemma in 1986 and made exactly the same choice. That 323 was much beloved, fun and bulletproof-reliable well into the 2000s.

    • 0 avatar
      dundurrbay

      my first car was a 1993 Protege 5-speed (right after they split the sedan into the Protege and hatch into the 323). I bought it with 270,000KM and drove it about 60,000 trouble free kilometers, using it as a delivery vehicle and beating on it day-to-day. The only thing I replaced was the timing belt/water pump. The car was sold with close to 330,000 KM and I still see it driving around my town to this day.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’d say Civic, except all the dealers were marking them up for way more than list price and they still had a waiting list. So make mine the Dodge/Plymouth Colt by Mitsubishi, with the twin-stick 4×2 tranny please.

    • 0 avatar
      solracer

      The Colt would have to be used since it’s 1986 and the twin stick went away in ’84 (though I could tell you a cool way to retrofit it to the ’86). I should know because I sold my ’79 Colt RS and moved up to a Mirage Turbo back then. You could not touch the ’86 turbo for $5645, it was more like $10,000. A used ’84 turbo maybe but I think for $5645 you’re going to have to settle for the non-turbo 1.5 or 1.6. Great cars anyway though, my RS was great.

  • avatar
    Neb

    Were RWD Toyota Starlets still around?

  • avatar
    Jimmy7

    Well, I bought a brand-new Nissan Pick-up, stripped, for $5995, had my soon-to-be wife co-sign, paid it off 6 months later to establish credit and saved up $700 and had an aftermarket AC installed. Drove it 120,000 miles and sold it for $2 grand. Of course, when they said stripped, they meant it; it came with no rear bumper.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      I don’t know if this was universal, but in West Texas back then, even a fully loaded truck required you to buy a rear bumper as an “accessory”…and while you were haggling the bumper, tool boxes, brush guards, and headache racks were racking up your totals.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Having driven the Chevette, ridden in the Sentra, and avoided the rest like the plague, I’ll go with the one I owned (and when I fill up my current ride, still miss): the Civic (mine was actually an ’83, but a few years improvement would only cement my choice).

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I would get a Chevy Sprint again. My family bought one new at this time. It never gave us any problems and was even adequate with a 6 person (4 kids in back) load.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    Dodge Colt E FTW! My dad bought an 86 Colt new. The only option was metallic gold paint. Had a 4 speed manual. That car was really reliable and only was gotten rid of when it turned to a dandelion due to rust. Funny thing is that he went to the dealer to buy an Omni and the salesman steered him away from it and into the Colt. lol

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    CIVIC – the 1986 generation (along with Accord of the same period) was the dawn of Honda’s greatness now apparently lost.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    In the spring of 1986 I bought a brand new (they sold the changed model then and called it an 87) 1987 Nissan Sentra stripper with 5 speed for $6200 – put in my own radio and 6×9 speakers . The other base models came with only a four speed , otherwise I would’ve probably got the 323 . A friend of mine bought a new 86 Mazda pickup two wheel drive extended cab and about 8 years later the bed floor all but rusted away to nothing .

  • avatar
    JMII

    My mother had the Omni, I had the Civic Hatch S 1500 and my brother had the Civic Hatch DX (1200?) back in ’86. Guess which cars kept going for another 6 years of high school and college abuse? Yeah those late 80’s Honda’s were great, double wishbone suspension, slick shifting, happy to rev and awesome mileage. After the Civic I moved up to a Prelude Si, my brother got the CRX Si, mother got a Saturn coupe which amazingly lived for a LONG time, so long in fact that she bought another one.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Good luck buying that Honda Civic at sticker back in 1986. They were commanding huge ADM in that era and if you said, “I ain’t payin\'” the dealer would tell you, “fine, the guy behind you will, and the guy behind him, and behind him, and behind him…”

    If I could go back to ’86 and I was looking at econoboxes in this price range, the 323 would be pick. ALMOST bought its badge engineered twin from Mercury in 1987. I had a bit more $$$ available so I went “upscale” to a Ford Tempo coupe with a 5-speed – LOL.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      1986 was the last year of that generation Civic. They sold well. But were not nearly as supply constrained as you would imagine. Especially since gas prices were at record lows back then.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, the real-world prices of Civics were way higher than list. I decided to keep this exercise simple and go with list prices only.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Not directed at you Murilee. It would be an impossible task to figure out fair ADM and incentives/dealer discounts to get a realistic picture without creating a B&B holy war. I was only commenting for the era that Honda’s commanded massive ADM back in the day. Was a reason why I didn’t have one in my driveway.

        I refuse to pay ADM, I don’t care how good it is, how rare it is, how “first kid on the block,” I am.

        I was lucky in August of 1988 when I bought my Ford Probe off the lot. People were waiting 6 to 8 weeks on dealer orders for the equipment/style I had and paying ADM to get their hands on one. I got mine for $750 below sticker and drove home in it the day I picked it out from the dealer. Turned out they had ordered six of them and none of them were selling. The dealer was nervous and the sales manager wanted to start moving them. When I took delivery on my the next day I was told all six were sold – I had just luckily timed it right.

  • avatar
    nikita

    Civic, if you could actually get one for MSRP. Since that was not likely, I’d take the Tercel, while less sporty than the Mazda or Honda, was the most reliable. I’d driven the Mitsu-built Colt and it was fun, but they didnt hold up very well.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    If it falls within the price constraints I would probably get that eras version of a 1st gen Insight.

    http://www.carlustblog.com/2008/12/1985-honda-civi.html

    If not then any of the regular Civic’s or 323’s that came with air conditioning. That’s a must in northwest Georgia.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Used ’81 AMC Eagle with the 4.2 liter Six and 4WD. Since I’d be shopping in the Pacific NW, rust wouldn’t be an issue and there probably were plenty of Eagles in the Seattle Times and Portland Oregonian classifieds.

    Alternatively I’d go with something like an ’82 Volvo 240 Turbo with a 4 speed stick and overdrive if I could find one for less than a new Chevette.

  • avatar
    ern35

    We bought the ’86 Mazda 323LX—that actually had fuel injection, was an attractive vehicle in and out, but had numerous issues—-the exhaust system was under-engineered (not enough damping), brakes that needed extra attention more often, and an automatic that had modulator valve issues. The body metal was the thinnest I’ve ever seen, and overall the quality of parts—compared to the Civic that followed it, was second-rate! And get this: The muffler needed replacement after 26 months, no dealer-part was available and instead was replaced with a Midas one—and that without my prior approval and knowledge—so much for Mazda!

    • 0 avatar
      applesartini

      The brakes were a known issue on Mazdas then. You HAD to use Mazda parts, to the tune of $100 or more for pads alone! This was back when I could buy Autozone parts for $10.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    Having had an 83 Chevette, and an 88 323, I’d definitely choose the 323. Nothing else on the board pops out for me like the 323, either. If I can’t have a used Challenger/Sapporo from it’s last year, I’d take the 323.

  • avatar

    Civic hands down. Mazda 3 if the waiting list for Civics (remember the 80s?) was too long.

    The Chevette? Never. Had one in the summer of ’84 for a rental for a long weekend. Hideous.

    • 0 avatar
      SteveMar

      +1

      Did a trip up to Boston in an 86 Chevette. Driving around town was life threatening. It was so underpowered I couldn’t merge on to Storrow Drive without miles of distance. Never again.

      A friend had an ’84 Civic — terrific car. Not the cheapo version listed here, however. The 323 was peppy, but I never drove one. (Owned an early 90’s Protege, but that was the next gen.) I vote Civic then 323.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      I forgot about the rental we had on Maui. I had reserved an Escort, as I remember, but Hertz stuck me with the Shove-it. It did have a third world feel to it when navigating the unpaved road off the end of the Hana highway, where I thought we were going to die in that thing.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    None of those cars interested me nor can I see how they would be better than my current VW Beetle and TR6. So my first new car was a 1985 1/2 Mustang SVO for about twice that amount of money. It was a good car until about 60,000 miles and it started to use oil. I sold it to my brother because I was moving to Texas and it didn’t have air conditioning. The turbo failed about a year later.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    No question about it… the Honda Civic. Thats the only one you will see on the road these days still.

    If used cars are an option, maybe a GTI. But a new GTI in 86 was almost twice that.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    My immediate and extended family went through a bunch of Mazda’s in the 80’s so I’m going to say the 323 just out of habit. If I were buying a car as a present to someone I’d get the Subaru so I could say that gave them an STD.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The Civic would be the obvious and smart choice, but I think I would take a used ’84 than a brand-new ’86. Air conditioning is all but essential in Florida and that wasn’t included in the base model.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Tercel, no brainer!

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Out of all the cars on the list, the only two I would have had no trouble living with, even today, would be the Civic or the 323. I’m leaning more toward the Honda, although the Mazda had somewhat better handling in stock form, Hondas had better finished interiors and generally nicer styling. The 1980s really were a golden age for that brand.

    I know the Tercel, Sentra, and Justy were all perfectly reliable cars, but they just don’t do it for me at all, and the rest are all just pretty terrible.

    • 0 avatar

      The Justy was nowhere near a reliable car. The Sentra was OK, but not as good as it got a decade later. The Tercel was an immortal cockroach of a car.

      • 0 avatar
        MusicMachine

        My ’87 Sentra reached 256k. Original water pump, starter, AC compressor… One clutch, alternator, timing belt. Never replaced anything twice. Was in an accident at 256k. Mechanic pulled the engine. It STILL running.

  • avatar
    FrankTheCat

    Couldn’t get a Milano for that sort of money then, I’m sure. Certainly can now, however. The question is; am I insane enough to do so?

  • avatar

    Can anybody find the list price for the ’86 Festiva?

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    I’d probably stick with the decision I made back then. A new, but past date and discounted, Kawasaki KZ400. Then pocket a couple grand in cash.
    If I had to go with four wheels, I’d pick the Mazda. Though the Chevette wouldn’t make a bad 2nd choice.

  • avatar
    Saaby D

    Can’t get past the Celozzi-Ettleson commercial. “Where you always save more money”, indeed! The end of the heyday for Chicago car dealer commercials, C-E, Al Piemonte, Fencl-Tufo, Harry Schmerler (your singing Ford Dealer), and Linn Burton for certain, for Bert Weinman Ford.

    All gone, just ceaseless screaming now.

    I’ll take the Mazda 323, good for 200k+ and it’s done.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      Beat me to it. Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet (“in Elmhurst, at the corner of York and Roosevelt Roads”) is one of those things that got engrained into your mind as part of an ’80s Chicagoland upbringing. They’re right up there with Victory Auto Wreckers (“That old car might be worth money!” “710 East Green in Bensonville”) and Empire Carpet (“Call 588-2300, Empire!” I can’t tell you how freaked out I got the first time I saw a national Empire commercial years after I left Illinois.)

      For some reason, I still remember Al Piemonte advertising deals on new 1992 Tempos and thinking “Ford’s still making the Tempo?”

      • 0 avatar
        Saaby D

        I was in Chicago at Christmas, saw Al Piemonte (still fashionably attired, in one of his Cosby sweaters) doing his thing on TV, and thinking, “Al Piemonte’s still with us?”

        Victory Auto Wreckers still runs ads using the footage of the door falling off of the dude’s 1974? Impala. He’s $50 richer and a happy man, that’ll get him a bus ride, a 6 pack of Mickey’s and a dime bag, with change!

  • avatar
    infinitime

    Alright, I have a slightly different perspective, living in Canada. In 1986, we had in addition to those choices, the Lada “Signet” and the Hyundai Pony. Alright, before you start laughing, I owned the Hyundai Pony (three times!), and it was a superior product to the Excel in every sense. A 5-door hatchback using an old Ford body-on-frame RWD chassis, but with a 1.4L or 1.6L Mitsubishi engine, it was the most similar car to the Chevette. In fact, the two were also identical in dimensions, but with the Hyundai being considerably more reliable.

    As to the Lada, it was crude and not particularly reliable, but it was built like a tank, and tended to take abuses quite well.

    I also owned a 1990 B12 Sentra at one point, and I think that model was also available in 1986. Reliable, tinny, and typically mid-80s Japanese – but also extremely dull.

    My money would be on the Hyundai Pony.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    My mother’s first new car was a “rose gray” 1985 Corolla Deluxe. This was back when Toyota had both FWD Corolla 4-door sedans and 5-door hatchbacks, as well as the RWD 2-door sports coupe and 3-door hatchback. Top quality car with a decent ride for a small sedan. I really wanted her to get either a Dodge Colt Premiere or a Honda Civic sedan, but she went ahead and bought the Corolla instead.

    The Corolla was passed down to my sister, then to me. It conked out in 1996/1997 when the head gasket blew at 120K miles. I was a poor college student back then, so I couldn’t afford to repair the car and I ended up junking it.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’d go for the Yugo. Just to say that I once owned a Yugo.

  • avatar
    Joss

    323 then Civic or Tercel, then possibly the Colt.

    Fugg the Chevette. Had an 86 in metallic blue and non-standard beige interior. Would spin round in the snow, lose power on the highway (automatic choke/THERMAC,) merde voltage regulator – many new bulbs.

    I think they’d just added the 3rd brake light at the top of the rear window and I was always changing that bulb.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I did have the money back then and I didn’t. I had a pristine ’76 Dodge Dart with a slant 6 that I drove to work, and an ’86 T-bird Elan for everything else.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    If I had been shopping for a new budget new car back then I would have considered the 323 or the Justy because I was living in Denver and I believe it came in a 4-wheel drive version (sure was ugly though ) . I actually got to do the classic 1986 new cheapo car comparison back then . A roommate back then who was a bit well insane wanted to buy a new car then and limited her choices to a new Yugo or a Hyandai Excel . As she didn’t drive stick I went with her to the dealerships . Both cars were crude , bottom of the line even for these basic brands , drove like agricultural machinery . I advised her to buy used . In the end she bought a stripper Hyundai hatchback . Turned out to be a horrible car , which I believe ended up in a junkyard by the time it was three years old .

  • avatar

    In the immortal words of Roman Moroni “Dat’s a fargin trick question!”

    The mandate is to select a new 1986 car, with the Chevette’s MSRP as the target. The truth is, nobody who a) cared about cars, and 2) had a $5500 (or so) price cap would have considered buying a new car. Since readers of (and, to an even greater degree) commenters on TTAC by definition care about cars, this is clearly a Kobayashi Maru moment.

    Having gotten that out of the way, and recognizing that even the much-loved 323 was just another mid-eighties shitbox, here’s how I’d spend my $5500. (Indeed, it’s how I *did* spend my $5500.) I would (and did) find an early-seventies Mercedes-Benz 280SEL sedan. Ideally, it would have the run-forever I6 rather than the electrically-challenged V8, but learning to cope with D-Jetronic is just part of becoming a man in full.

    Of course, coping with not one, but three D-Jetronic Benzes (not all at once) is just part of becoming aware that you’re an idiot.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    A wee late to this one, but here goes.

    In 1986, I had NO money, 21 and had several cars in mind, the 323 was not on my radar, though I knew it was out there, the Tercel was also in full bloom and then we had the Civic, the Excel had just come to America the year before, along with the Yugo as an ’86 model, essentially a reworked Fiat 127 with Fiat 128 mechanicals built in Yugoslavia and of course, we still had the Chevette.

    I’ve driven a Chevette briefly and liked it for what it was a few years before, antiquated be damned.

    So I’d have probably bought one, just to say I owned a Chevette and lived to tell about it. However, make mine a 2 door with the sport package and a 5spd manual, with AC if it’s in the budget.

    Then again, I would probably go for the Yugo for the very same reasons.

    The Excel? never made the radar.

    Though in hindsight, the Mazda 323 would’ve been a fun car to drive, now that I’ve got the taste of how much fun a Protege5 can be to drive, I would expect the related 323 to be a more fun subcompact than most out there for this price point.

  • avatar
    lutecia

    In 1986 would have chosen a AMC Renault Encore hatchback :D but then probably regreted it and switch to a Civic

  • avatar
    texan01

    I’d go for the Chevette, manual transmission, A/C and an AM/FM radio.

    RWD isn’t much of an issue in Texas, The Excel and the 323 were still one of them suspect foreign cars and truth be told, weren’t much of a looker even to 10 year old me. Although my grandmother had a stickshift ’79 Chevette that was silver and looked pretty decent and she never had any problems with it.

  • avatar
    applesartini

    Well, seeing as I owned both an ’80 Datsun 310 and an ’88 Nissan Sentra (and loved both of them), I’d have to vote ’86 Sentra. I know this isn’t the popular choice, and If I was thinking rationally I would’ve bought the 323. I had a friend back then whose parents were serial 323 owners. They put 250-300k on them and then traded them in. But I was not (and am still not) a rational person, and I was a huge Nissan/Datsun fanboy in those days. Also I got a good solid 45mpg in the 310 with its anemic A13 forklift engine, and the Sentra got 35-40 with the E16.

  • avatar
    Herm

    I bought an ’85 Honda Civic Si in ’86.. for about $6500 IIRC, sold it two years later +50k miles for the same.. it was a great car. For some reason the price of new Hondas exploded in 1986, everyone figured out they were good.


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