By on December 6, 2009

(courtesy:palmettoluxury.com)
There are some cars that no one will appreciate… but the owners. A bad brand name. Fatal and expensive defects from times past. Even a body style made of a designer’s frump can turn a brilliant vehicle into a showroom relic. This week I majored in buying unloved cars. Seven cars. Seven sins. More than likely seventy-seven plus days on the pavement.

Gluttony: 2000 Cadillac Seville STS

They can consume oil thanks to the Northstar engine’s unique design. They can consume even more coolant thanks to GM’s patented Dex-Cool, which has finally paid for the retirement of several gifted attorneys. They can even keep Cadillac dealers closer to the black thanks to an electric system that is as complex as it is badly protected from the heat of the engine. But for $500, I figured why not? Carmax announced ‘Does Not Run’ on a 2000 STS painted in GM’s “Bronzemist.” I turned the key and drove it home. They were right. Now it doesn’t run. But it’s a camshaft sensor. Or maybe an ignition switch. Maybe. I hope.

Greed: 1997 Pontiac Grand Am SE

I was greedy. Bought a garage kept two door coupe with automatic, cd player, and the best roll down windows that GM ever put on a 1990’s car. Well, I think they actually only used the same one for everything. In practice these are actually great finance vehicles. GM was in ‘Proctor & Gamble’ mode in the late 1990’s and slapped badges on anything they thought would move in the showroom. This works out well in the buy-here pay-here business because you can literally replace most anything on this type of vehicle for peanuts. The 1997 model cost $875 and since it’s the more youthful version, it will sell. I should get $3000 by financing it with $500 down and $50 a week for 50 weeks. Most late 1990’s GM compacts usually sell for right that amount.

Envy: 1995 Ford Aerostar

If you drove one of these vehicles, you envied every other minivan on the road. Ford took a 1980’s Ford Ranger rear wheel drive chassis, added seven thrift store quality seats that absorbed stains as well as they repelled your bum and put Tonka colored plastic buttons all over the door. Because that’s what you should be looking at when you’re driving on the road. For the finishing touch, they let it languish for 10 years while adding three other minivans to their portfolio. The result? I find the only one that had an owner who kept it hermetically sealed. No stains. No paint wear. No rips. No broken buttons. Not a single thing wrong. All the replacement parts were Ford OEM. I bought this 1995 model for $800. Someone will want it. Hopefully they live near Atlanta.

Pride: 1995 Lincoln Continental

Ford took pride in having the most advanced front wheel drive suspension in the world… in 1995. The 32 valve V8 engine produced a heart palpitating 280 hoursepower at a time when Toyota Camrys were sold with less than half that oomph. The seats were splendorous. The noise levels were better than the Town Car. In all respects this car should have been a true winner for Ford. If only they had taken pride in the rest of the car. The interior dashboard and door panel materials came straight out of the rental Taurus. The design was a testament to… the Taurus. In fact, all it really was in the end… was a $40,000 Taurus. I bought it for $852 at a sealed bid auction with a little less than 150,000 miles. It needs $250 worth of paint and that’s pretty much it. Maybe a Lexus badge.

Lust: 1993 Chrysler Town & Country

Come on! You know you want it! A three-box design that would be the envy of any mini-warehouse owner. Faux wood on the dash that is so shiny, you can comb your hair if you look at it just right. What can I say. I’ve always been a sucker for a ‘dirty burgundy’ and this one had it all. Leather seats, captain’s chairs, rear air, cruise, ABS… I think you can now get all these things in a Nissan Versa. I paid through the nose on this one because the owner kept it brilliant for 16 years. $1100

Despair: 1996 Chevy Lumina

I can only imagine the despair of the last owner when Firestone bilked him out of multiple C-notes. The car wouldn’t run right. So of course they ignored everything but the throttle body. Expeditious use of a wire brush and some cleaner brought it back to brilliant shape. It was clean inside and out and with only 90k miles, it’s only middle-aged. Like me. I bought it for a thousand. I’ll probably cash it for two or finance it for three. Like the compacts, GM’s midsized cars are perfect finance fodder.

Wrath: 2004 Ford Taurus

Can you imagine driving one of these things for 193,000 miles? Someone apparently didn’t need to. The radio was steadfastly tuned on AM stations and NPR seemed to be the only FM setting that was considered. The person who spent time in here was obviously car-apathetic. Judging this Taurus from that prism of indifference, it isn’t bad at all. The leather seats are nice. All the buttons work. Sunroof operates fine. But to be blunt, this car was truly a terrible car for it’s time. I can only imagine what Ford shareholders would have done had they compared this car to a similar year top of the line Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Ford would have been toast. Thankfully the used car market benefits from 20/20 hindsight. I bought it for $1400. It’s competitors would have easily sold for two and a half to three times that amount.

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42 Comments on “Hammer Time: The Seven Deadly Sins...”


  • avatar
    educatordan

    I’d take the Caddy or the Lincoln, but not as my primary means of transportation.  Oh wait, forgot, I don’t have any money and I’m 2,500 miles from Atlanta.
     
    What engine in the Grand Am?  (Hey at least it’s dirt cheap to find parts.)  There must have been 10 of those things in the parking lot where I went to high school, and we only had a student body of about 300.
     
    And your right about the Aerostar, the college I went to from 1995 to 1999 had 3 of those things in refrigerator white with blue interiors.  Used them to take small teams of students to away games or to go on recruiting trips.  Those things were so craptastic it made you pine for an Astro van.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    A ’97 Grand Am that doesn’t have a trail of parts behind it? There’s a miracle.
    Not quite as reliable a predictor of felonious occupancy as a F-body, but damn close.

    Sounds like you paid right. Good luck. 

  • avatar
    50merc

    And the amazing thing about the Aerostar is that Ford put it on the market even though Chrysler had already shown them what a minivan should be. Of course, GM went with the dustbuster profile.  How could they be so stupid?

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      Actually, GM first went with the “breadbox-on-wheels” Astro, since GM and Ford were positive that buyers wanted higher towing capacity from their minivans, at the expense of overall height and ride comfort. What’s most amazing about the Aerostar is that a front-wheel-drive van was supposedly proposed at Ford in the late 1970s, but failed to get project funding; that may be revisionist history on the part of Iacocca, as it’s the story he gave for the minivans’ inspiration at the time of their successful release.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      No you are correct, it’s one of things that led to the ouster of Iacocca from Ford.  He pushed and pushed for that minivan (he pushed on alot of things) attempted a board coup and was pushed out, Ford almost died in the next five years, brought in outside CEO who led a miraculous turnaround (sound familiar), namely the taurus and thunderbird.

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    The Lincoln is the only clear winner here. A fine vehicle all around. The ridiculous price, crap interior, and octogenarian image made it hit the depreciation sweet spot and stay there. Grandparents had one, its currently serving livery duty with my cousin’s real-estate business, showing houses. Don’t sell this one Steven, put a coat of paint on it and start picking folks up at the airport.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Yep, Buzzdog, you’re right.  Even after GM was figuratively hit on the head repeatedly with competitors’ better designs, RenCen couldn’t get it right. Would it have killed them to imitate Caravan, Sienna or Odyssey? Yeah, it would — better ideas Not Invented Here.

  • avatar

    I have never been in or ridden in an Aerostar, and I never knew anyone who owned one. What I have noticed is that even though these vans have not been made since 1997, I still see them everywhere. The interiors may have been second (or third) rate, but the mechanicals must be pretty reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Well yeah, remember under the skin the Aerostar is Ford Ranger all the way.  Remember which small truck gets lots of praise heaped on it here by the B&B?  (I’m not being insincere either, when I was used truck shopping the Ranger was at the top of my list for being dirt cheap and fairly reliable.  Ended up with an F150 cause the deal was good and I wasn’t going to be driving it as a commuter vehicle.)

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Only <b>some</b> Aerostars are reliable. Four-wheel-drive ones with automatic transmissions eat trannies for breakfast, and things like the a/c and power windows break regularly. I know this because my carpool driver had one of those pos’s, and I got to ride in it with both the a/c and power windows broken in the summertime.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Other cars in this situation I’ve wondered about are some of the last Oldsmobiles, particularly the Aurora and Intrigue.  I remember renting a lot of Intrigues and finding them comfortable and likely the most attractive midsize cars GM offered at the time (inside and out).  Mechanical bits should be easy to find and the earlier Intrigues with the pushrod 3800 should even be pretty fuel-efficient and inexpensive to keep going.  Any thoughts on these as cheap drivers?
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      3800V6s are also cheap and plentiful if you want to replace them too, or be wild and create something that never existed like an Intrigue with a SUPERCHARGED 3800.
       
      Saw one on Ebay that needed a new transmission (refused to go into 4th) but was otherwise pretty immaculate, and the miles weren’t that bad (less than 100,000).  The guy was throwing in a boatload of electrical connectors and other sundry items he had collected over the ownership of the car, including a new instrument cluster for some reason.   He was the original owner and I think an Oldsmobile nut.  No Reserve Auction, I think it went for less than $1,500.00.  Even with a couple grand for a new tranny, you could drive that car for a long time.  Insurance would likely be cheap too.

    • 0 avatar
      UnclePete

      We have an ’02 Alero with about 110,000 miles on it. My fiancee bought it new with a GM retiree discount (her grandmother worked for Fisher Body), and other than brakes and tires has been dead reliable. It is a 4-cyl automatic,  so it’s not real quick off the line, but gets in the 26-28mpg range on the highway. It’s also a reasonably comfortable car for a long trip.

    • 0 avatar
      salhany

      I drove a ’99 Intrigue for 5 years, getting it up to 135K before selling it. It was a really good highway cruiser, with a comfortable ride and decent handling for such a large car. I loved the steering feel on it. Mine had the 3.5 Shortstar engine, which burned a little bit of oil but was otherwise quite a fine mill and a better match for the car than the 3800 IMHO.
      Overall it was reliable, although as it aged I had a few problems with it, notably some climate control issues that took 4 trips to the dealer to solve. I am unsure if those problems were due to poor design or poor dealer service. The air pump also clogged and filled with water, which then dumped into the passenger compartment and rusted out the blower motor. That was a design flaw, although the problem disappeared when the air pump was replaced.  I replaced a water pump at 133K and decided that I was doing so much driving that I needed a car with fewer miles, so I sold it.
      Overall it was a very positive ownership experience with the ‘Trigue for me. If you can find one cheap I’d go for it.

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    A couple of things about the Caddy
    As long as the headbolts/gaskets are fine it is easy to fix.
    1) If  it starts, runs and stalls when cool and restarts quick and easy… That crank sensors.  An easy DIY project that can be completed for less then $150.
    2) If  it won’t crank and has numerous error codes for “communication errors” with the numerous computers on the car… Thats the ignition switch… A slightly harder DIY project to replace the $80 part
    3) If it cranks but won’t start… Fuel Pump. which can be accessed through a access panel in the floor of the trunk… Part is as expensive as heck though $500+ for the pump.
    The headbolts/Headgasket problem have nothing to do with Dex, they have more to do with some really bad engineering by GM using the wrong head bolts and not properly casting the Aluminum blocks.   If the headbolts have failed, the car is junk.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Another tidbit on the Northstar is replacing the starter itself.  Nestled under the intake manifold, it is a bear to replace.  According to Motor Age (an independent-repair shop publication) the starter is made to a higher standard than the typical unit and is alleged to last the life of the typical car.  Find it hard to believe that GM would be concerned about the owners of their products at the late stage since a penny saved…Regarding the fuel pump, it is nice to see an access panel.  Many makes require dropping the tank…

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Junk?  What’s a re-manufactured engine cost?  You know after the core exchange.  Of course that only makes sense if your not a dealer.
       
      If I bought a $500 Caddy with a perfect interior and body I’d be happy to rebuild the engine and the transmission and then drive it another 100,000 miles.  But I also love luxury cars, and totally under-appreciated cars.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Rebuilt Northstars are about $3500 FOB Dallas, TX plus sales tax, freight and installation. Double that amount if you buy it from GM.
      http://www.agaptexasengines.com/1635936.html
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      Ya, John beat me to it, To have a dealer fix all of the failed head bolts in a NorthStar is something like a 24 hour job and a $4000 bill… A factor re-man motor is also over $5500 installed and the aftermarket is around $3500 (plus $1000 to install)… And the average price for a 2000 Seville is what?  $6000?   Really, you would sink $4500 into a car worth $6000?  Good money after bad. 

      As for the starter… Everyone point to the “goofy” location of the stater.  The Starter is one of the most reliable parts of the NorthStar.  Leaks, Water-pumps, head bolts, crank sensors, motor mounts, stuck rings, catalytic converters,  ignition switches, fuel pumps, AIR Pumps and suspension component can and do fail LONG before the starter dies.

      Actually having the start tucked up in the dry and clean V is IMO smart.  Having the starter tucked in around the exhaust manifolds where it is exposed to heat, dirt and water is a much poorer design.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Whether the job is “worth” it, depends on how long your gonna drive it afterwards.  Look at the senario above, Caddy that won’t start for $500.  Worst case senario, you replace engine.  I sink some money into it and then drive it and drive it and drive it and drive it.  This is somehow stupider than a HUGE car loan? 

      My father sunk a grand into a Chevy Celebrity that had 100,000 miles on it cause he owned it free and clear already and I was 16 yrs old.  I put 30,000 miles on it, my sister put about 20,000 on it, and then he sold it to my cousin who drove it while his Camaro was in the body shop.  Kid gave him $600 bucks for it, drove it for 6 months, and then sold it to a budy who destroyed it in a demo derby.  At the end the interior was still decent, body was falling apart, orginal trans still worked, and the headliner was held up by staples.  But yeah my dad spent $1,000 on a car that was worth maybe $500 bucks when he did that.   You think it would have been wiser for the old man to go find a nice used car and take out a loan? 

      A few years later he spent about $800 fixing rust spots on a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme because he loved the car and wanted to keep driving it a few more years and he takes pride in the apperance of his vehicles.  Was that a boneheaded move? 

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Wow, $500 fuel pump. Maybe that explains why my neighbor was quoted $1400 to replace one on his ’98 (or so) Firebird.

    • 0 avatar
      CompWizrd

      It’s mostly labour.. Had to get mine replaced on a ’96 TransAm, and it was around 8 hours labour.. it’s about 300 for the pump from rockauto.. labour is getting the damn tank out.. by the time you get the back end apart and together again you’ve also broken or found broken parts to replace.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    $500 for a fuel pump? That’s a Cad part at the dealer right? Gotta be able to get that much cheaper. RockAuto, Oreilly, Autozone, somebody…

    BTW, doesn’t the STS have OBD I on it? You don’t need a reader for OBD I on a GM, just a jumper wire under the dash.

    Just be thankful it ain’t Crapti-Spark. Like on a Firebird. Ugh…

    • 0 avatar
      UnclePete

      A 2000 STS will have OBD II. 1996+ cars have to have it. I have a ’95 Fleetwood, and it is OBD-I. On the OBD-I B and D body cars, you can read the codes through the heater/AC control panel, which is handy.
      It does have Optispark, like all the LT1 motors of that time, but it is not that bad to deal with, especially since the Fleet has an electronic fan, so you have direct access to the unit. An LT1 motor will last pretty much forever compared to the Northstar IMHO.

  • avatar
    thebanana

    I had an ’87 Aerostar. POS. I think you paid $400 too much for it.

  • avatar
    choices

    All of them are American cars…

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Don’t get all the Taurus hate.  Yeah, Ford let it rot on the vine, but because of over-production and the rental car image, these cars are one of the best used car values out there.  Massive depreciation, good reliability, decent build quality, cheap repair parts, low buck insurance…the cheap guy’s best friend.  Equipped with the Duratec, not a bad performer either.  For budget minded enthusiasts, tons of SHO parts bolt right on, making better-than-class handling less than a grand away.

    • 0 avatar
      MrDot

      They’re cheap and reliable until the transmission blows.

    • 0 avatar
      otsegony

      I have to say that I agree with golden2husky on the Taurus. I have 2002 wagon with 150k miles that has been a very reliable car. Aside from the usual fordly issues of door handles that stop functioning and plastic bits that drop off, it has been totally trouble free.  The Duratec engine has needed very little beyond basic service and not a hint of trouble from the transmission.  I’m not sure about the whole performance aspect, because frankly my 20 year old Honda Accord is a much more fun to drive.  But for a driving a car in the rural northeast where it has to endure six month winters, lousy roads, deer hits (four kills with this one alone) and it still gets 22 mpg with five star safety, that doesn’t get me a car payment, this one has been a great deal.  As a matter of fact I’m looking for another one on E-bay and Craigslist.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    $852 for the Continental is only the down payment.  Air struts, head gaskets, electro speedos, radiator…..the fun is only going to start.  I’ve made many a boat payment working on the Taurus Continentals.  You also need fingers the size of a 2 year old to get at many of the parts.  My favorite customer car was one I called Abe.  As in, leave a lot of Abes in my hand before you pick it up :)

    Also, regarding the lawyers & Dex-Cool.  I had several customers file for reimbursement on the class action suit, only to have the law firm handling it stall on the processing until GM went bankrupt.  No more claim and no $$ for the lawyers :(

  • avatar
    ChevyIIfan

    My grandmother has a ’96 Lumina… it has been a decent car; they’ve taken it across the country multiple times, only a few small repairs.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    If you’re finacing $2,000 cars for $3,000 using the $500 down and 50 weekly payments of $50 method you are making 115.6% interest. 

    This is the first amortization calculator that came up on Google, just use principal of $1,500 (the deposit plus the rest of the cost if they paid cash up front), 52 payments per year, and 50 payments of $50 dollars: http://www.bretwhissel.net/cgi-bin/amortize

    That’s pretty damn good, but, then again, collecting on defaults that might be armed takes it way beyond financial risk.

    The Aerostar has it really rough because even if someone wants RWD/frame/live axle for towing the Astro and Safari are still miles ahead.

  • avatar
    Boywonder

    I see alot of this junk go through the auction and watch it on the post sale reports.
    The sad little orphans toward the last of the day usually.
    I always wondeed who bought them.
    Or really why.
    I noticed the Taurus has 193K on it, and I’m guessing the others were all well above 100K as well.
    But I guess if the clientele is exclusively a $500/50 BYPH, that’s all that works.

    Personally, I prefer a decent, very late model, under 50K that I know I’ll clear 2 grand at the drop of the pen, with maybe a wax and detail. 

    That, and no inspections, cleanairforce complaints, return calls, etc.
    Much much simpler.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I remember those days.
      They were called 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
      Most dealerships in Atlanta make the majority of their money with cars that were either purchased or traded-in at $3500 or less. One dealer network in particular that I know of makes more than 70% of their money that way… and they sell three different luxury brands.
      The days where you could just ‘wax and detail’ your way to wealth are far gone for the majority of dealers.  I know of a few rural independents that can still sell their trucks for a healthy premium at that price level. But that’s pretty much it… and they do a surprising amount of self-finance to get to that level.
      If I could go back to the days of easy credit, I’d be all there. However today I will be auctioning off 80 vehicles in metro-Atlanta, and the proceeds that I get from that sale will be far beyond what I get with my side business during this time of year.
       

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Stephen, your exploits just   strengthen  my resolve to  hang onto  what  I  have.

  • avatar
    roadracer

    I’m kind of concerned about the Lincoln;  $250 doesn’t buy a lot of paint.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Funny, I thought the Aerostar’s interiors were fairly attractive in their day. I see a lot of them up here in northern Michigan, but 99% of them are rusted out BADLY.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Since we’re on the subject of nice cheap cars, how’s this one sound? I’m in the middle of negotiations to buy a 1999 Buick LeSabre Limited, fully loaded, Bronzemist, 107,000 miles, garage kept, no rust, for….$1800.00. The car belongs to my pastor’s mom, and she just “want’s something different”.
    I’m hoping to have it by the weekend, so I can say bye-bye to giant car payments! (I sold my HHR, great car, but oh, the payments…)

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Leather interior?  What color’s the interior?  Hoping you have it for many many years till you can afford to make it a second car.  I’m seeing a 3.8 supercharged V6 at the 200,000 mile mark, remember Buick’s tag line was “Go Fast With Class” for a few years in the 80s.

  • avatar
    ajla

    @supremebrougham:
    Are you going to redo the UIM/LIM (assuming they haven’t been done yet) or just cross your fingers on it?
     
    All 3 of my 3800s (LN3, Series I L67, and Series II L67) have been great runners, but I did have my LIM gaskets replaced on my Series II L67- just as a preventative measure.
     
     

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    This car has been babied, so I am going to hope for the best and wait and see…

  • avatar
    dlnorton

    The Aerostar will never get enough love. I say, if you have one sell it, put it in the junk yard..whatever. Just means more parts for me ! ;-D My 97 Aerostar is a work horse and has been across the US twice! The engine can take a beating if the body doesn’t stand up. My mom had the 98 GMC Safari (basically your Chevy Astrovan) And I could barely fit in that van. I’m 6′-2″ and Astros are small in the driver seat. My Aerostar has a lot of room for me. I know there’s a better set of wheels out there for me, but I can’t afford to make a car payment. So for now, it’s my Aerostar. Good gas mileage too.

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