By on January 4, 2011

You’re 20 years old. At least for this exercise, you have been able to implant your current wisdom into that once wonderful body of yours. You hit the jackpot! Well, sort of… A genie popped out of a bottle of Colt 45 and granted you the chance to relive your life from that 20th birthday forward. Except there’s a catch. You must live out the next 60 years of your life drinking malt liquor and sporting bad hair.

Actually, it’s not that bad. You can buy only 1 new car for the next 20 years of your life. Tough break huh? The car you choose must be owned and maintained by you, and only you, for the next 20 years. Why? Don’t ask questions. This genie’s been stuck in a malt liquor bottle for decades and it wouldn’t grant you a wish without messing with your head at least a little bit.

The ‘20 to 40’ car must withstand bachelorhood, marriage, and kids. Even if you don’t have any kids, tough shit. You get at least two. Maybe five if you whine about it. The genie wants you to become a ‘responsible parent’ and figures that back seat diaper changes and long road trips to Wallyworld will eventually put you on the right path. That path being far far away from that bottle of Colt 45 you were about to consume.

Of course if the car in question breaks, you’re screwed. The genie relishes the image of having you take your screaming young family on public transit and Greyhound buses thanks to your incomprehensible love of Peugeots. A love for expensive and temperamental cars will obviously land you straight into the world of debt and despair. But no enthusiast wants a dull car for 20 years. So what will you choose?

The budget is $25,000 in today’s dollars and has to be chosen from your authentic 20 year old days. For example, if you’re over 40, you have to go back to that time of yore when a 1991 Ford Taurus SHO could be had with a 5-speed (hint). See! It doesn’t always suck to think about those older cars. Just make sure you choose a keeper.

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163 Comments on “Hammer Time: Choose Your 20 Year Sentence...”

  • avatar

    That would be the mid ’80s for me, a Volvo 240 wagon seems like what my present self would tell my past self to choose for a 20 year keeper.

    • 0 avatar

      I was 20 in 1989, Volvo 745 would be my choice. With a *T* if the budget would stretch to it.

    • 0 avatar

      My 20 year old car was a 1988 Chevrolet Beretta GT. I drove it for almost 20 years with cracked block replaced and tranny over haul. The body was still in good shape with no rust and with springs, shocks, sway bars, and all poly, the 2690 lbs ESP Camaro/Mustang fighter in SCCA could still haul groceries and go to FL & Mexico spring break trips.

      When SRT-4 came on the seen the V6 got a PowerDyne Supercharger.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny how quickly it came to 240.  I am 41, had new Hondas, Nissans, Mercedes.  3 years ago I bought a 1987 240 sedan with 60K miles for towing my boat.  Couldn’t be happier and nothing really appeals to me in today’s market in the same way (airy salon, comfy seats, tough suspension, clean style, huge trunk, snow capacity). 1988-1989 240 would be ideal – the last year before ABS.

      And when I was 20 in college, the malt liquor we drank was St. Ides, not Colt 45.

    • 0 avatar

      It would be ’97 for me, your 240 is close, but I would get a used 140 wagon instead. There would be less to go wrong over 20 years. Before people say I can’t go and do that, one of the bits of wisdom I would impart on my 20 yr old self would be never to buy a car new after-all. Another bit of wisdom would be to take all the money left over and buy SUNW, sell in 2 years and buy APPL.

  • avatar

    I’d get a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Preferably a 2012 or later model with the Pentastar, but even one with the current 3.8L is passable.
    For starters, it’s a classic, cool design. Wranglers/CJs have oozed pure awesome since the first ones rolled off Willys’ and Ford’s assembly lines and onto the beaches of Normandy. They’ve always been cool, and they always will be cool-today, we restore old CJs and MBs, and in 50 years, those people will be restoring old JKs and J8s. And, probably, MBs and CJs too.
    Secondly, it carries 5 people reasonably comfortably. As a 20-something, it’ll tote you and 5 friends (Legally, somewhere around 20 if you include the trunk, laps and having people hanging off the runners/nerf bars and holding the rollcage). As a 40-something, it carries you, the wife and 2.5 kids just as well.
    Thirdly, it will go anywhere. Bar none. Come snow, water or zombie apocalypse, it’ll get you there. Great for finding secluded ‘picnic’ spots as a 20-something and getting the kids to school in a snowstorm as a 40-something.
    Fourth, it’s simple and durable. As a 20-something, it’s a hobby and a great place to learn how to work on a car. As a 40-something…well, it’s still a really good hobby.
    Fifth, they’re about the only car that’s affordable, cool and practical. Plenty of cars are cheap and cool (Miata), and plenty are cool and practical (M3), but the Wrangler is the only thing that’s cheap, cool and practical.
    Sixth, there’ll never not be support, factory or aftermarket for it. Even if Chrysler were to collapse tomorrow, Jeep would be snapped up by another car company-they’ve survived Willys, Willys-Overland, Kaizer, AMC, Renault and, even when Chrysler was struggling, other companies were practically beating down Chrysler’s door to get their hands on Jeep. I mean, you can still easily get parts for a 1941 Willys MB. You can get parts for the Bantam BRC, for chrissakes.
    Seventh, you’ll never worry about getting a speeding ticket in one. That’s good for all ages.
    Give me a Wrangler and few bucks to modify it, and I’ll be happy for years.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmm I was 20 in 1997.  Ummmmm you know, give me a 1997 Pontiac Bonneville SSE for a MSRP of $27,164 but retail was $24,583. With the 3800V6 parts will be cheap and plentiful.  And my father had a 1993 model that I loved.  Big enough to carry two kids and their stuff, haul my golf clubs, and bring home plenty of groceries to feed the little cusses.  Any woman who is going to hate on the Bonneville can keep moving.

    • 0 avatar

      Since I was 20 a mere 2 years ago (well 3 if you’re counting the recent New Year) would I be killed for going G8 all the way. I believe they still make parts in Australia for their Holden lineup and that thing looks great. To my eyes at least.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Could you get a G8 GT for $25,000 two years ago?  Who would want a V6 model?
      Could you get a G6 GXP for $25,000?  They were available with the 3.9V6 which is a lot of cubic inches for such a small car, and you could get a 6speed manual.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure about prices. I never paid attention to anything new a couple years ago because I couldn’t afford it anyway. Since I was assuming you’d have to buy new I would have taken a G8 (V6 doesn’t really bother me since I have an 06 base Grand Prix with the 3800 and it works for me). I’m soured on the G6 because that stupid song (I know it’s apparently about a jet, but I wouldn’t be able to drive something that appears in a song). I guess I’m not much of an enthusiast then because sheer performance does nothing for me. :)

      I’d take somebody else’s idea and go learn to do more of my own maintenance as well as go to a driving school so I could learn more of the tricks that many people use.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yeah it’s about a Gulfstream 6 but if I want to crack up my fiance I just look at her at a gas station when a G6 pulls up next us and say softly; “Like a G6.”

  • avatar

    Well, let’s see. I was a 20 year-old undergrad in MIT back in 1973. Only new car I would buy, own and drive for the following 20 years would be the one I actually owned up till just a couple of years ago:

    Not sure what today’s $25k would have been worth back then, but I would have found a way to make up the difference. A pretty cool car then, and still today.


    PS: Just no Colt 45…please. 

  • avatar

    The maintenance having to be done by myself throws a bit of a wrench into things – I have no practical experience actually working on cars.  I guess I’d have to go with a Crown Vic or Grand Marquis.  Either one could be had for around that price range in real money back then, I’ve always had a thing for both, and the roomy engine bay, legendary durability, and simple design would make either car an easy platform to learn the arts of automobile maintenance.

  • avatar

    IDK about the cost, but if it fits into the prescribed price range, then it would have to be an ’83 Country Squire (or Colony Park) …

  • avatar

    MSRP 1995 Camry V6 XLE $24,795 – seems like the ideal choice.

    Then again $24,795 in 1995 is $34k now. So, I might have to settle for a 4-cyl LE…

    Interestingly the MSRP of a 2010 Camry XLE is $29,805 – so it’s interesting to see how Toyota has adjusted prices over the past 15 years as they attempted to price the Camry and the ES competitively.

  • avatar

    How about a car from when I was 10? Because that would be easy: A 1991 E30 318is.  Practically bulletproof in every way, unless you get in even a minor front-end collision :( Otherwise easy and cheap enough to maintain, unlike it’s more expensive and complicated siblings…

    I suppose I would have wanted a Mini Cooper S in 2001, though the charm has sort of worn off them for me now…

  • avatar

    This one is easy for me.  A mid level 2000 XJ Cherokee with the 4L I6 and a 5 speed manual trans. Good jack of all trades, shade tree wrenching friendly and has enough off road ability stock or lightly modified to keep the fun factor up.

  • avatar

    I was 20 in 2004, If I could I’d like a used E39 or E46, same cars I want now 6 years later, if not a TSX or RSX.

  • avatar

    Easy… I turned 20 in 1980: a Volvo 240 wagon.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I turned 20 in late 2001. Budget is $25k in 2011 dollars? Hmm, that’s around $20.5k in 2001 dollars (using the US consumer price index as a conversion). Let’s say I pick up a 2001 Nissan Maxima GXE for under the $21.4k MSRP (but above the $19.4k invoice). Standard 222 horsepower 3.0 liter V6 engine with 5-speed manual transmission. I like where this is going.


  • avatar

    The whole “in today’s dollars” thing threw a major wrench into most of my ideas.
    I finally decided to go with the longly-named 2002 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner DoubleCab V6 2WD.
    So now I’m a truck owner, I hope the genie is happy.

  • avatar

    The enthusiast in me wants to go with a WRX.  But then the thought of having to take public transportation once the engine goes is enough to probably make me chose a Nissan Altima 3.5. 

    If I was going to be a selfish bastard I would choose an RSX Type S.  How frustrating could it possibly be putting child seats in and out of a small coupe? 

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    A 20 year car in 1967? I think the only thing made back then that would have had a chance of lasting 20 years were the M-B Diesels. It is much easier in the post 1990 era.
    But, I wouldn’t care. I would be in Palo Alto with the Chinese girl, and I would not have gone to law school.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Here’s something from the late 1960s that’s a little more fun than an MB Diesel.

  • avatar

    1st gen Acura Legend. $25k in today’s dollars leaves a lot left over, so I’m going to use it to attend an auto mechanics program. If I need to be good enough to overhaul my own car, I might as well be good enough to do it for other people.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Volvo 745 turbo wagon. It would have to have been purchased lightly used to hit the $25k in today’s dollar target.

  • avatar

    That would put me into an E30 series 1991 BMW 318i.  My then girlfriend-now wife owned that exact car.  What it lacked in power it made up in handling.  What impressed me the most was the dual nature of the car, practical during the week but fun to drive on the weekends.
    The fact that I still see tons of them running around now is also a good sign.

  • avatar

    This is fun.  I actually think about this from time to time (man, Steve, you and I are seriously sick).  OK, a 1990 model for $25,000 in 2011 dollars?  I would go with a 1990 basic, no power nothing 4×2  Jeep Cherokee with the 4L.  Great size, fun to drive, practical, cheap parts.  The XJs turned out to be pretty durable in their later years judging by the number that are still running/for sale.  The obvious Accord and Camry choices are out: I could not stand living with my 1992 Accord for more than 5 years.

  • avatar

    1985 for me, and I still have a Carolla SR5 that runs great, and has been easy to repair over the years, although the rear-end is finally starting to grumble a bit.  However, the 2 kids thing makes that one a little less than practical, so I’d have to go with the 4WD Tercel.  Put the rest of the unused purchase price into a college fund for the kids, and breathe easy.

  • avatar

    This is easy. VW Golf Mk2 GTI. Easily fits under the $25k cap in today’s dollars, and essentially bulletproof. Insurance costs for a 20 year old would eat up the rest of the budget.

  • avatar

    09 Subaru WRX if I’m in the snow country, otherwise a Golf GTI. Sedans are for dads.

  • avatar

    As best I can tell, in 1992 I could have special ordered a Suburban with a 454 and 4wd.  Solid drivetrain, seating for many, been able to tow any camper or trailer I wanted to, and would have been very user friendly in the many moves I did during the many times I moved over those 20 years chasing one better job after another across the midwest.  Unfortunately it would have rusted to death like every other vehicle did over that timeframe.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      As best I can tell, in 1992 I could have special ordered a Suburban with a 454 and 4wd.
      C&D tested a similar Suburban from around that time frame and they called it “Arnold Schwarzenegger with a tow hitch.”  (You know back when he was still the terminator.)  Although I believe it got the worst recorded fuel economy of that year.

    • 0 avatar

      Since I turned 20 in 1986 this is right down the path I would head.  1986 GMC K5 Jimmy with a rock stock 350 engine, auto trans and a towing package, just for the trans cooler etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, it was never mentioned in the list of requirements if we are dealing with 1992 gas prices or todays gas prices.  However the utter reliability, usefulness, and my extreme desire to live as closely to my workplace as possible would negate the fuel cost in the end.  Working and living in the Chicagoland area taught me to hate long commutes for work.

  • avatar

    I was 20 in 1992, so without a doubt, for me, it would have to be a Subaru wagon with a 5 speed. We had a 85 DL wagon 4×4 that got me through my college years and some pretty wild winters with enough room for packing all my dorm room furniture and lugging around my friend’s band equipment.
    So I would definitely do another one, probably a Legacy wagon with 5 speed… heck I’d do that now if I could, and drive it till I’m 58!
    PS, I would have had to give up that car anyway, cause I left for europe in 1995 and didn’t come back. Here, an equivalent would probably be a Volvo, or Passat.

  • avatar

    Dear Ged, I have to pick a car from what was available cheap in 1982/83? And work on it myself? Gotta go with a Honda. Either an Accord hatch or a Civic wagon. Both inexpensive and easy to work on, and damned near immortal here where rust does not live.

  • avatar

    Working on the car would pretty much be a lost cause at this point-but I’d probably buy the same car in 1997 I bought in 1999-Honda Civic EX Coupe w/ 5 speed.  I sold the car 2 years ago w/ 135K miles, still running great.  Paid $14,900 in 1999 so I should be way under budget.

  • avatar

    I was also 20 in 1984.
    Like the others above, I pick Volvo 245. In fact, I just sold my 1984 Volvo 245 last year, with about 250k on it. If I had actually bought it new in 1984, it would have saved me a lot of headaches over the years.

  • avatar

    Probably too young for this exercise, but I was 20 in 2005.  I think the Mazda 3 would be a smart choice, but then again, it was the first year of the new Mustang styling…

  • avatar

    In 1991, I would probably have bought myself a Mitsubishi Galant VR4 and hooned it for 20 years. I also like the Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo and Cadillac Eldorado Touring Coupe of that era, but that’s probably over the budget.
    Realistically, I’d break the $25k barrier and go for a 1991 Lexus LS400 or SC400, cars I’m sure would last 20 years without bankrupting me or losing my interest.

  • avatar

    A twenty year car in 1974? Some kind of Volvo.

  • avatar

    Most of the year spent hauling 1,800 crazed Marines aboard a helicopter carrier as part of the then “Ready Reserve Force” in the South China Sea and environs.
    Not a lot of fun and lack of funding caused actual food shortages.  Ever been around 1,800 hungry Marines? Feared for our lives at times but that did not stop us from sneaking into the C ration stockpiles and swiping the food intended for Marines storming ashore to protect 3rd-world despots and tyrants that served USA elites and corporate business interests.
    The chicken loaf and pound cake was especially tasty.
    Oh, vehicles.
    1976. Ugghhhh. Gulp valves and air pumps, I believe, on many (all?) California engines at that time as part of smog control regulations?
    Back in the days when the underhood sticker proclaimed the vehicle met California’s different-then-other-states’ smog laws.
    A pain for those moving into California from other states with different smog regs.
    The full-size vans were a trend/fad back then. No mini-vans in those day you whippersnappers.
    Quadraphonic audio systems.  Still a few locales in larger cities resembling the Haight/Ashbury of San Francisco but diminishing in size as disco commenced invading the youth culture.
    A Ford van and an in-line six with a manual shift and manual everything; windows, etc. to minimize things that could break.
    Remain in a saltless road area to avoid rust, perform maintenance and repair as needed and minimize driving to assist in a 20 year longevity.
    Vile spawn can walk or bike everywhere once old enough, as I had to.
    Good for the brats. Toughen ’em up as so many “modern” youth are not.
    And, if all else fails, the van provides a place to live when the landlord kicks us out.
    I HAVE to marry the wench?

  • avatar

    83 dodge pickup  or ramcharger, couldn’t go wrong becausee they either had the slant 6, 318 or 360, and I’d get the 727 trans. My second choice would be a low option AMC powered jeep product, or a bronco or F150 with the 300/C6 combo.

    • 0 avatar

      that 727 Torqueflite would definitely last 20 years, probably longer.

    • 0 avatar

      I should think so… the 727s in at least 2 of our Chryslers are still original and they’re 44 years old; the trans in my truck is basically a 727 with overdrive added in the tailshaft, and it’s 16 years old.
      I turned 20 in 1995.  If I had to choose a new car from the time, it would probably be a Roadmaster.  I assume it would be in-budget.  Buying used, I’d also consider a RWD Ramcharger with a smallblock and 727, or a fullsize Chevy/GMC van or Suburban with the 6.2L diesel.  Buying REALLY used, a 66-71 fullsize Chrysler or Imperial 4-door sedan or wagon.  A fullsize Dodge or Plymouth with a 318 would probably be a better choice, but not my style.  OTOH, starting with a smallblock, swapping-in a newer transmission with OD to help the fuel economy would be a consideration.
      Back in 1995, you could’ve easily found an excellent rust-free example for a couple grand down south, so there would be lots of money left in the budget for any needed repairs and maintenance items.  It could last another 20 years even in the rustbelt, starting with a fresh coat of paint, then annual oil spray thereafter.  (Chevy and Ford fans can substitute their favorite fullsize sedan or wagon and the same is probably valid.)

  • avatar

    Easy … I was 20 in 1985 so how about a 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000.
    I could actually still be driving a car like that today, or any other early 70’s GTV.

    Matter of fact, after the inheritance comes in, guess what I’ll be looking for?

  • avatar

    Easy for a relative youngster; 2000 Accord EX-L 4 cylinder, 5-speed.

  • avatar

    1979 Formula Firebird W72 400ci 4spd dark blue. (no Trans Am with screaming chicken on the hood).

  • avatar

    hrm, let’s see. This doesn’t have to be a new car, so I’m going to pick the car I actually had when I was 20; a 1985 S-10 blazer. a bright screaming red one with a red vinyl interior and no carpet, power nothing, 4wd, a 4 speed stick, and that gutless but wonderfully indestructible fuel injected Iron Duke 4 banger.

    I could get 26 mpg in that bucket all day long, it went through everything you threw at it, and when it got dirty inside, you didn’t vacuum it out, you hosed it out.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Too early to go and dig out past MSRPs, but I feel pretty confident that any three of these would fall under the umbrella:
    2001 Maxima SE 6MT
    2001 Camry CE V6 5MT
    2001 Accord 5MT
    Those are ranked in order of preference (though the list also goes high->low w/ respect to price)

    • 0 avatar

      I might have to change my vote.  I completely forgot about the Accord.  I liked the 6th generation, but I agree that it’d have to be the MT since there’s all those Honda auto transmission horror stories

  • avatar
    Dave W

    I happily put lots of miles on my 1980 Accord that I disposed of in 1992 so I’m over half way there. Only problem is I’ve always lived in the rust belt and expecting anything from 1980 to last more then 10-15 winters is a BIG stretch. On the other hand what I actually did own in 1980 was a ’63 Citroen ID19 (no need to warn me about french cars) and my daily driver a’71 SAAB Sonnet.
    My wife thinks I’m crazy for insisting my ideal midlife crisis car is a ’96 Buick Roadmonster station wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 for a Roadmonster.  Get a tasteful rim and tire package from the ‘rack, replaces the bushings, shocks and sways, and a mild tune on the mill.  And some shag carpeting for the back.

    • 0 avatar

      Roadmaster was what came to mind. SBC or LT1, both easy to wrench on and cheap for parts due to relative ubiquity, and there’s enough room in the back for everything from conception of said kid(s) through moving them to college.

      Now, where mah genie at?

  • avatar

    So its December 1973,and I turn twenty. Okay, mid seventies  = AIR pumps and generally,crappy cars. I would order a 74 Buick Century stripo 2dr. The 2dr arn’t as rust prone ,and the A Buicks still used a real Buick motor. Even with an annual oil spray,twenty years will be a stretch.

     The next step will be convincing General Motors, and the UAW, that I need about an eight year educational leave. I could work every summer at GM untill I graduate. After I pass the bar exam,I’m going to need another seven years to pay off my student debt.

     The Buick would be part of my life by then ,so I would park it in the back yard of my country estate. The old Buick would make an excellant planter.

  • avatar

    I’m not an experienced mechanic, but I don’t mind getting my fingers dirty, am fairly quick to learn, and I could always ask my mechanic brother-in-law for advice.
    I’m not sure about the price, but I would have to pick the 1980 Jeep Wagoneer. Easy to find parts and I assume relatively easy to work on. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jeeps, and most of the cars that I liked from that period got hit with the ugly stick in the 1980’s.

  • avatar

    This is easy.  At the time I had a 1980 Corolla that was amazing.  It reeked of quality in the late malaise era and was silent at idle.  But to do it over and to meet the qualifications I would  go with a 1979 Caprice with the F41 suspension.  Maybe even the two tone red exterior and the plush red velour interior.  Cool.
    (Actually, I would like one today for my daily driver.) 

  • avatar

    2002 for me.  Slightly used 3rd Gen 4Runner or new Subaru Outback w/ 5MT.  Hoping that my 5th Gen 4Runner hangs around until 2030. 

  • avatar

    Hmmmm…what’s still left on the road from 78/79? GM B bodys and A bodys, Volvo 240s, Ford F100s, and a smattering of MB W123s.

    I couldn’t afford the Mercedes, so it would be a toss-up between a Ford 100 Super Cab with the 300I6, or a Malibu with the 250I6.

  • avatar

    2002 for me so I think I would grab a 2003 model year Marauder.  Not my dream car by any means but fun enough, reliable, and easy enough to work on.

    I like the Outback idea but I have a feeling that in 2022 getting parts for the Marauder would be far easier.

  • avatar

    Gas mileage be damned!  I was 20 in Aug of 1995 thus a 1996 Chevy Express 3500 135″WB Passenger van with the 7.4L Big Block likely could have been sitting in the sales lot.  I’d have been tempted to go with the 6.5 TD but knowing what I know now those have a comparably worse reliability record vs the 7.4L or the 5.7L.  The trans on these things are rock solid and can be swapped out in an afternoon. Here why this is the vehicle to own for 20yrs (for me):
    – family = ? so why not have the capacity to take 1/2 the softball team with you,
    – toys = ? so why not have the capacity to tow a boat, camper, tri-fecta of jetskis, or quinteplet of quads,
    – job = ? if I lost an office job this rolling office building could serve as the business basis for any craftsman worth his weight in salt, finally
    – shelter = ? as “obbop” mentioned above, if my situation goes to shit

    As for the terms of the Genie’s offer, doing my own maintenance?  Other than swapping out the engine on a van these things wouldn’t need much work and the work that it would need would be easily taken care of with a 3 ton jack and stocked Snap-On tool chest.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to add a 2nd vehicle like a WRX or S4 to the list but NO WAY would I want to deal with the electrical and mechanical bug-a-boos myself for the 2nd 10 yr stint.  The packaging of smaller more fun cars makes working on them suck.  Other than race, handle, and be efficient a van can do thrice what any car can do.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Let’s see. 1997, with an inflation-adjusted budget of 18-19k.

    The US is well into the SUV boom, so fun, light cars are an endangered species. The B16 Civic Si is still in the future, and Integras are too expensive. The Sentra has a torsion beam, and the Corolla is a transportation appliance. Miatas are fun, but I don’t think I’d fit in one back then either.

    It’s a long shot, but I’m going to see if I can wheedle myself into a 5-speed S14a 240SX. Not kid-friendly, but that knowledge from the future tells me it won’t be an issue.

  • avatar

    Well, that’s rather easy. I was 20 when I bought my first new car: 1986 Honda CRX Si (red).

    I really should have kept the old girl, but I traded it in 15 mos. later for an ’88 Si (black).

  • avatar

    This is a bit difficult as I was 20 in 1972.  However, after a bit of deliberation, I think I would have sprung for a ’73 T/A SD 455 (my bitrhday is in November, so the ’73s would be out….).  In inflation adjusted $$$$, that $25,000 converts down to around $4,800, puttting this car into the range of available iron.  Simple from a mechanical standpoint, fairly easy to work on in the pre-computer days, and just fun to drive.  Made just before all the crazy stuff started happening on the emissions front.  I’m sure the gas crisis of ’74 would not have been much fun with this car, but what the heck.  I was actually driving a ’72 Opel Manta Rallye at the time, so this would have been a somewhat natural step in the progression up the food chain.  Plus, since there were only 252 of these bad boys built, if I had it today it would have nicely beat the inflation rate with the current value.

    But then again, if a bullfrog had wings he wouldn’t bump his butt everywhere he went.

    • 0 avatar

      ’73 T/A SD 455 – The only GM muscle car I want..

    • 0 avatar

      @ dswilly:
      Just make sure you have around 100 large to purchase one of them today.  I believe the automatics go for around 75 to 100, and the manuals go for 100 to 135.  There were only something like 72 4-speed cars made that year. These prices are for fully restored versions …. rebuilds start in the 20’s.

  • avatar

    I have (almost) already done it.  My parents bought  a new 1992 Mazda Protege LX (stick) when I was fifteen and I learned to drive on it..  I owned it twice after that, wrecked it four times (twice my fault), and blew up the transmission and driveshaft (!) in 2000.  As late as two years ago it was still running at over 170k miles. I was not easy on it and did little to maintain it except for regular oil changes and tires.

    I replaced it with a 2003 Protege LX. The two cars are very, very similar; they weight about the same, have similar power, and can share wheels with early Miatas.  The 92 had a better shifter, but the 03 is in much nicer condition as it has been “adult owned.”

  • avatar

    I turned 20 in 1997, so I’d have to go with the ’97 Civic EX sedan with manual.  I slightly preferred, and owned, the previous generation Civic.  But we need this thing to go 20 years so probably wisest not to buy a ’96 that already has some miles on it.  The Civic was super reliable, reasonably sized (even for a family of 4), reasonably fun to drive, and economical for those wild swings in gas prices.

  • avatar

    I was 20 in 1990, and actually got myself a brand new Nissan Maxima SE, black, automatic (I live in SF at the time!). My first car, for college duty. Drove it for many years and then hand it over to my sister. It stayed in our family, reliably, for some 12 years. So that seems like a pretty good choice. At $18,000, it’s well under budget too.  Had I have $25,000? Hmmmm… Maybe an Acura Legend coupe, or that Volvo 740 turbo that so effortlessly left my Maxima in the dust, despite having the same horsepower rating. Left me scratching my head for a long time. Or Mercedes 190E 2.6? Don’t know if that can be had for the budget, but a college friend then owned one, and looked pretty nice in black. And this is those Mercedes that’s built like they should, oughtta last 20 years with care.

  • avatar

    Did exactly that, bought a ’91 Cherokee in late 1990 for about $18K (4.0 litre, 4-wheel drive, very stripped) and am still driving it 266,000 miles later. Did the entire family thing with it and never thought it would last as long as it did. Only difference is I was beyond 20 in late 1990.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Oh, Lord!  I turned 20 in 1979.  What’s a body to do?  Well, I suppose $25k in today’s dollars would be about $7,000 then.  I suppose the best option would be to have bought a Chevy Suburban with the small-block V-8…

    Other than that I suppose a Volvo 240 DL Wagon or a M-B 240E from that era would have gotten me 20 years….

    Last option would be an F150…I could have put a cap on it to carry the kids in the back….

    • 0 avatar

      I feel your pain.  1979-what a horrible time to pick a car.

      The Suburban would have to make the short list.  Ditto a Ford Club Wagon or a Dodge Sportsman van (can’t remember if Lean Burn had made it to the trucks yet).  Maybe a Panther or a big GM wagon.  Is it OK to bungee the kids into the bed of a Lil Red Express?

      Gotta go with the Club Wagon.  Ziebart, Ziebart, Ziebart

    • 0 avatar

      Check the inflation calculator by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
      You have $8,295.13  to play with. That’s probably not enough for a Mercedes or Volvo, but you could buy an Impala for that.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Apropos of nothing whatever…whose Playboy collection did you have to delve back into to find that Colt 45 ad?  Bertel’s?

    • 0 avatar

      You have to hand it to this crew. Where they find this stuff is beyond me. Certainly not in LIFE magazine! WHY they post some of this stuff is too deep for my shallow mind!

  • avatar

    That would be 1994 for me.  I’d go for a ’94 F-150 SuperCab 4WD with a 5-speed and the bulletproof 4.9 I-6.  Hell, I want one now. (They listed for $18K then).
    Since that was less than 20 years ago, in my current family situation it would work.  It would haul my small trailer and hold both of my kids.  Living in the Great White North means 4WD is a no-brainer.  I’m pretty sure you had to lock the hubs yourself in ’94, so less electronic doo-dads to break.
    The only thing would be to keep up on the yearly “Rust Check” undercoating.

  • avatar

    I’m 22. Give me the Sonata GL with the stick.

  • avatar

    I was 20 in 1978, so the obvious answer is an Olds Cutlass.  Sporty enough not to be laughed at by my friends, reliable enough to last the next twenty years.
    Too bad I’m not a little younger.  My 1983 VW Rabbit GTI lasted me ten glorious years essentially trouble-free and I could have easily driven it another ten.
    By the way, I had a 1992 SHO.  It was a crude vehicle that I ended up detesting and dumped for the much more refined SVT Contour when it arrived in 1997.

  • avatar

    $25,000 in 1988 was like $13,000.
    I think I’d buy one of the last remaining 1987 Cutlass Coupes. With $13k and a little horse-trading, I think I could get a Salon with buckets and a console.
    Yeah, kids, whatever. They can squeeze in the back seat. I spent my childhood in the back of a Camaro and a Grand Prix.
    I know exactly how they work, and I could buy anything I needed for it at any auto parts store in the country. My wife’s 1985 442 went to around 200,000 on the odometer before the speedometer cable broke for the last time, then she went on to put at least another 30,000 miles on it.

  • avatar

    mmmm….. 1983, I would go for a new base Saab 900, 8valve and the hatch, should come in under the money and it would be a usefull, cheap to run and safe pick.

    I owned an 87 in 2002 that had around 465K on it , rust got it, but even at the end it was still enjoyable to drive.

  • avatar

    I actually kept the car I owned at 20 until I was 31. It was a Chevy Celebrity wagon with the 2.8L V6 that could hold almost anything, it made it to 238K. If I had to do it again I might choose a then-new 1990 Caprice though (last of the boxy body style).

  • avatar

    Perfect, 1988. 1st gen M5.  Got the sport covered, kids covered, wally world covered. Fast, handy, tough and reliable. I could handle the maintenance I’ve been there with big BMW sixes, no problem.

  • avatar

    Chevy Impala, or, in a pinch, Malibu/Chevelle. Impala. ‘Nuff said. Game over. That’s what I drove when I was 20 yrs. old because I wanted to! See avatar above. Learned to drive in my dad’s 1960 Impala, later, drove my dad’s 1966 Impala, my second car was a 1961 Bel-Air (Impala lite). There you go. I drive a 2004 Impala. The End.

  • avatar

    These have already been hit, but:
    82 GTI: About 20K in today’s money.
    Mercedes diesel would have to be a 240 or used – new 300D looked to be about 27K in today’s money.
    Accord would’ve rusted out.
    Volvo wagon – also nice.

  • avatar

    It has to have room for two or three kids!? Then I can’t consider the all-new ’76 Honda Accord hatchback (and even if I could, it might have rusted after 20 years). For known reliability and relative ease of repair, I’d have to go with one of the final slant-six Valiant or Dart sedans, then in their 10th year of the same design. For that budget I could get a Special Edition with vinyl roof, radials, etc.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    Checker station wagon. One of the few cars from the era I target that I think the body would hold up on.

    The drive-train is a no-brainer.

  • avatar

    I could almost get a 1989 Dodge W250, Crew Cab with the first gen Cummins Turbodiesel.  I know that’ll last 20+ years without complaint.  Regular Oil Changes and Transmission checks will keep it happy.  I live in the South, so no rust to worry about.

  • avatar

    1972….. 20 twenty years old. I’ll take the 1970 BMW 2002, dark slate blue exterior, black interior that my parent’s let me use any time..

  • avatar

    Being 20 in 1989 I guess my choice would be a Mustang LX 5.0 5 speed. I actually came really close to buying one, still regret not doing it.

  • avatar

    I would pick the same car I had then, a 98′ Impreza 2.5RS. Then I could spend the remaining $5000 turbo’ing it….oh wait, I have kids?
    Fine, the wife gets a used Oldsmobile Silhouette with the 3800. That should have been well under $5000 back then.

  • avatar

    Well, assuming I couldn’t get the genie to relax the wife and kids restriction by patiently explaining that I’m gay, so a wife wouldn’t be happening…
    I guess this means some kind of sedan, so either a Volvo 144 or 145 (the 164 is too expensive), or a GM A-body 350 4 barrel.  Get rid of the wife and kids and it’s definitely a Firebird Formula 400.

  • avatar

    If it’s really gotta last 20 yrs and be self-maintained, the choice seems obvious: The best used diesel-powered midsized Mercedes sedan I could afford. I’m 43, so we’re talking probably $12k in late ’80s dollars, so likely an early ’80s example.
    Not the most fun thing to drive, but safe, reliable, and comfortable.

  • avatar

    1980 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Wagon with manual transmission. They were automatic only in the USA, but I was living in the UK at the time.  And I would bring it stateside with me, RHD be damned.
    If it was for a car that would be 20 years old TODAY, I’d start with the 1991 Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon that I actually had (LHD that time).

  • avatar

    I’d go for a Toyota Landcruiser or Jeep Wagoneer from the 1985 era.  If those weren’t affordable I’d probably just go for the 85 Accord 4 door which a was rather nice (albeit boxy) car that should last 20 years.

  • avatar
    The Wedding DJ

    My car would be an ’82, and I’d definitely go with a Mopar M-body – Diplomat, Gran Fury, or, if I could swing it, Fifth Avenue (they called it New Yorker then).  Familiar parts I can fix myself (there is no engine I know better than the 318), dependable and durable, plenty of room for those kids.  Only downside’s the gas mileage.

  • avatar

    1987, this 20 year old engineering student with no money is driving the old family hack he received for free, not spending $25k on a vehicle.
    Luckily 87 was the first year for the 4.0l in the Jeep Cherokee, so I’d probably opt for that with a 5-speed.  Didn’t check the list price on that though, so if I can’t afford it put me down for the 240 wagon as well.

    Certainly not what I would have chosen at the time….

  • avatar

    1982, second year of Architecture at Georgia Tech – marriage was still six years off for me at that point.

    What did I actually drive at age 20? A base 1971 Vega notchback, which by this point had a sleeved engine, GT head with tuned headers, and an 18″ glasspack out back… (c: I drove the car about eight years and it had 220K on the odo when I traded it on a new Samurai.

    While the Volvo 240 looks attractive from this point in my life, looking back at what I actually did drive once we had children, I probably wouldn’t have chosen it, still being at that point on relatively good terms with GM products. I most likely would have opted for a Cavalier wagon (in real life, a used ’82 Cavalier Type 10 hatchback joined the Vega after graduation), or maybe a Caprice (doubtful – we drove compacts – ’87 Chevy Spectrum, ’90 Honda Civic 3-door – until our two sons literally wouldn’t fit in the back seat any more at around ages 10-12 or so), then we got a ’98 Caravan.

  • avatar

    Yeah, the DIY maintenance/repair thing would likely leave me a pedestrian.  What if the transmission lets go after 250,000 miles?  Do I have to rebuild it myself, or install a remanufactured one myself?  And the having to put up with kids thing is also a deal-killer.
    That said, my 20-year-old self would likely pick a new Honda Accord, or used Lexus LS.

  • avatar
    N Number

    2003 GMC 1500 pick up.  I only choose that over the Chevy because that was the year Chevy started with the angry eyebrows on the Silverado.  It’s not that exciting, but I’ve had some incredibly good luck with GM trucks as far as longevity goes.

  • avatar

    And this just in….RIP

  • avatar

    Let’s see, in January 1972 I think I’d go for a new Olds Cutlass coupe.  GM stuff was still pretty stout in those days.  However, I’ll pass on the malt liquor.  That stuff gave me a roaring headache.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, thankfully, that drops me in just before the “lost decade” of autodom (i.e. the 1970s).  But, if the issue is durability, repairability, relative competence as an automobile, then there’s only one answer: the Volvo 144S (or the two-door 142S).  That was back in the era when Volvo ad campaigns actively promoted Volvo owners who had an insane number of miles on their cars.  The car had two relatively modest weak points:  brake pads (4-wheel discs!) needed replacing fairly frequently and twin SU sidedraft carburetors which were fussy to adjust.  Final caveat: don’t put an air conditioner on this car.  But, for that matter, don’t put an air conditioner on any car of this era, unless it has a large displacement American V-8.
    Runner-up: Dodge Dart with the slant 6 engine and autobox.  Cheaper than the Volvo and not nearly as competent a car, but just as bullet-proof.

  • avatar

    Acura Integra Type R.

  • avatar

    The year is 2000.  I am in my second year of engineering at U Waterloo.  I am currently driving a 1984 Cadillac Sedan Deville D’elegance with the 4.1.

    Knowing what I know now (the size of car seats for 2 kids, what gas prices are going to look like, how interchangeable Mazdas really are) I am going to pick a fully loaded, low mileage 1998 Mazda MPV, and be sure to have it rust proofed yearly.

    Buying used, I should be able to get the deal done under $20k, so I’ll then take my $5k, buy gold for 265 an ounce, sell it in March ’08 for $1000, then re-invest the ~19,000 in Ford at $1.50, and sell it today ~220k, which would pay off my mortgage, and put $70k in my pocket.

    5k of the $70k would go into a 5-speed/diesel swap for the MPV, and the rest would fund an extended leave of absence to go tour the southern hemisphere.

  • avatar

    Easy. 1963 VW bus with the camper conversion. Parts are cheap and even a klutz like me could keep it running with a Chilton manual and basic hand tools.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Easy. 1985 Jeep Wagoneer. It’ll move me from college to my first real job and marriage, across the country a couple times. Take me camping and hunting and fishing. Room for the kiddies. And when it’s all said and done, it becomes an iconic classic, sought after by the upper crustie Cape Cod summer home set.  

  • avatar

    1986, not a good year. A MB 300E is outside the price range.  So probably a Ford Bronco with 4WD and a 302 V8.  If I didn’t have to work on it myself, I’d choose differently, but I assume I could keep a 302 running for 20 years.  A Blazer with a small block would be similar.  If room for kids wasn’t an issue, it could just be an F150.

  • avatar

    Toyota 4Runner or K5 Blazer

  • avatar

    2001 Jeep Cherokee Limited, manual transmission. No brainer on reliability and grocery getter without beind a soccer mom car.

  • avatar

    1976: Definitely the A body Dart/Valiant with auto and slant six…. or for ultra family “practical” AMC Hornet Sportabout with the 258 and yes… the Mopar torqueflite auto.

    And I’d suffer with the bad hair… as a matter of fact, any bad hair would be good hair at this point…..

    And I’ve been close to living this anyway: I have had the 63 Valiant since 1980….I know I can work on these things myself. That’s why I chose it in the first place…..

  • avatar

    As usual, a lot of commenters missed the point.  This isnt buy your favorite car, or buy the coolest car.  The rules as I read them:
    1.  Choose a car from whatever year you were 20.  I was 20 in 1990.
    2.  It has to be a new car in that year, so no used cars.
    3.  It is you and your family’s ONLY car, not second car, the wife (or husband) doesnt get thier own car.  ONE car.
    4.  It is the ONLY car you get to drive for the next 20 years.  No second car, no toys, no trade-ins.  And apparently, the genie has arranged no accidents either… lol
    5.  You have to work on this car, no mechanics.  Dont know how to work on cars?  Better learn.
    6.  You WILL have kids.  2 kids, and you will need to drive them on road trips and other things.  Kids start out as babies, so whatever car you pick needs to hold car seats.
    7.  The budget is confusing, and sucks for us older people.  $25k in todays dollars is only like $15k in 1990.  See this link for your real numbers:

    So, those of you that picked a Trans Am, or CRX Si, Mercedes, or Alfa (really??  an Alfa to last 20 yrs?  Really??), you missed the point.

    I wanted a BMW 3-series.  Original MSRP for the base model was $25k in 1990… not $15k, so fail.  So I have to go with the easy obvious choice:  Honda or Acura.  1990 Honda Accord  EX Sedan, or 1990 Acura Integra GS sedan.  Roomy, fun to drive, cheap and easy to maintain, runs forever.  I also liked the Nissan Maxima of that generation… but it was a little too pricey for the budget.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, a couple points. 20 years ago kids could still roll around in the backseat unrestrained, so squeeze out the sprogs early. I have a pair of now 25yo Alfas in my garage at the moment. A Spider and a GTV-6. Both are quite reliable, and if I had been maintaining them to my standards since new they would be even more so. Cars are only tempermental when not maintained properly. The GTV-6 would certainly accomodate children. When they got to be teens and no longer fit let the little darlings arrange there own transportation, I certainly had to when I was a teen – my parents NEVER drove me anywhere. It was school bus, bike, or walk until I got my license and my own car. Today’s children are ridiculously spoiled, lazy, little turds.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yeah I missed the whole “today’s dollars vs yesterday’s dollars” thing but I think I did alright otherwise on my new car choice.  I would have picked an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with the 3.4DOHC but that engine is a POS and wouldn’t make it 20 years.  At least I could do my own wrenching with the 3.8 and the chassis was decently entertaining.

      I guess given all the requirements I’d like to buy a brand spanking new 1997 Crown Victoria PI but I don’t think Ford would sell me a new cop car being a civilian.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I was pretty clear about the other things, but less so about the price. Thanks to your link I now know that I would have had $8,874.41 to work with, but I can’t find the original MSRP of the 1980 Jeep Commander to confirm whether or not it would have been affordable.

    • 0 avatar

      @krhodes1 — Strong points there… todays kids are definitely lazy little turds.  My parents didnt drive me around either, I bus’ed it, or biked it, or walked.  However, today I have daughters and I have to worry about pedophiles and missing kids, so that makes me a little more cautious.  And, congrats on the Alfas, I love them, not trying to knock them.  But I love my GTI, and I still wouldnt pick it for my ONLY car to last 20 yrs with me doing the wrenching.  Finally, I do not think you could have gotten a new Alfa within the price limitations.  Was there even new Alfas in the states in 1990?

      @philsophil — I think you would be fine with that price cap in 1980.  Cars were pretty cheap back then.  But you are right, I couldnt find it either.

    • 0 avatar

      Alfa sold cars in the US until 1995. I believe an Alfa Milano sedan would JUST squeak into the budget in ’86, a Spider certainly would but not kid friendly, a GTV-6 probably wouldn’t.

      I don’t believe there is any more risk to children now than 20 years ago. Difference is multiple 24hr news channels reporting every sensationalistic thing that happens to a child anywhere, so you hear about it. When I was a kid a local restaurant owner went away for a long time for diddling little boys going back 30 years. But if you did not live within 50 miles of Gray Maine you probably would never have known about it. Nowadays it would be on Fox news coast to coast for months. And then there is the Catholic Church…

  • avatar

    Add me to the 1984 VW GTI crowd.

  • avatar

    1995… Gotta go with a ’95 Honda Accord EX 4-door with the 2.2 and a 5-speed.

  • avatar

    Come to think of it, If it HAD TO BE NEW when I was 20, that would be 1971. O.K., no Impala – they were too big then. I had to think back, and now I remember what my choice was then and that hasn’t changed. Two choices: 1972 Chevelle Malibu “Heavy Chevy” option in yellow or red with black stripes and saddle brown interior or 1972 Chevy Nova SS metallic brown/dark tan w/off-white interior.. There, that does it. Still feel the same.

  • avatar

    1995, 25k in today’s dollars?
    Toyota Camry Wagon.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Considering how little heartache mine has given me thus far, I’d still go with a GLHS Omni. I just wouldn’t take it down the Super 60 path.

  • avatar

    Ford Fairmont. I’d like to see that last until 2007.

  • avatar

    Finally! An advantage of age.  I’ll take a 1968 Plymouth Valiant with a slant six and torqueflite transmission.  I’ll want to bring back some superglue to fix the minor stuff that breaks.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Just make sure to bring the good stuff; Krazy Glue and its ilk used acids to keep their subpar crud flowing, which resulted in a bond that ate itself shortly after curing. Zap CA all the way!

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    My first choice would be an ’87 Old Cutlass Supreme 442, in blue please. But I need something that can tow so an ’87 K5 4X4 Blazer w/350 fuelie and Silverado trim. It would still be worth 5K when I was done with it.

  • avatar

    I was 20 in 1996, I’ll go with a Camry SE, last of the old-school built Camries.

  • avatar

    When I was 20? That would be 1982. With 1982 dollars? Not a whole lot from that era that I would desire.
    1st choice: 1982 Delta 88 Vista Cruiser with the Chevy 350 cid (I think that was the motor back then).
    2nd choice: 1982 Checker Marathon sedan with 250 cid Chevy six. I’d get the wagon, but I think the wagon was not available at that time (I forget when they stopped making the wagon, I think it was before 1980). Maybe I could get the folks in Kalamazoo to make one just for me. I could just give them the entire amount of money and get a custom built one!
    3rd choice: 1982 AMC Eagle Wagon, with 258 cid 6 cylinder, NP transfer case and Mopar tranny.
    All of these would fairly suck for dating, but would fulfill the other needs rather well. All were fairly robust, easy to find parts for and repair. With the wagon configuration, they would handle most anything a family could throw at them.

  • avatar

    1993. Considering the environment (Russia in the early 90s was not very friendly or safe place to be) this is easy.
    Slightly used personal import SAAB 9000 2.3Turbo with basic spec, without TCS and a stick shift. This is something I would drive for 20 years (and it would last easily, even though labor-intensively from time to time).
    Option B would be a SAAB 900i 16 valve 3 door hatch.
    Outside of Russia that would be a basic Euro spec W124 300TE wagon of 1986-88 vintage (considering the budget limit): no AC, manual everything, 5 speed.

  • avatar

    I am basically living this question out right now.  Bought my ’98 Contour SVT when I was 21 (nearly 22), exiting college.  It has survived road trips, moving cross country, commuting in hideous DC traffic (and getting the snot beat out of it on DC streets), blazing the snow, marriage, 2 kids arrival into this world (although I haven’t bothered to put both car seats in), a good number of track days, and lots of Ikea / Home Depot trips (fold down back seats and bungee cords can manage a 7 foot long solid wood desktop, among other large items I heard plenty of times “how can you get that home without an SUV?”).
    I believe I paid $21k in April ’98; invoice price – probably comparable to $25k today.
    I wouldn’t change that purchase for the world.  And I intend to be driving it when I’m 40.

  • avatar

    1973. A late model Ply Valiant or Dodge Dart (same car) with slant six and probably slushbox. (My parents had a ’70 Valiant for 16 years.) Not the ’73 though, because I think that was the first year for the smog modifications that really choked the carb. If I have to have a ’73, a Volvo.

  • avatar

    Given those conditions, I think I’d probably tell the genie to get the f*ck back in the bottle and stay there.
    Actually… if, as someone pointed out above, the genie really had arranged for no accidents, then I might not stuff him back in with a plunger, and go with a Contour SVT as the above poster said. Fun to drive, quickish, and I loved the Mercury Mystique I had until recently. Easy enough to work on yourself, too – which is good, because you’ll be doing a lot of it.
    If there’s no guarantee about accidents, though, then I’m not sure which direction I’d go in. I prefer not to sacrifice safety for a small gain in performance (and seriously, 25k? you’re not going to get much performance for that no matter what) so having to buy a new car *and* having to spend only that much would be a really bad situation. If you’re allowed a *used* car with that money, though, there are a ton of options.
    Limited budgets and new cars just don’t make much sense to me, anyway. The 50% depreciation on a year-old high end car will pay for an awful lot of repairs – I’d rather buy a $50k car for $10k and spend $7k on repairs over ten years than buy a new $15k penalty box and $2k on repairs… So my awesome car is five years older than the penalty box – I’ll take the tradeoff.

  • avatar

    1975? 3 SuperBeetles. Or I move to New York. I am a lousy mechanic.

  • avatar

    A Lincoln Mark V, Diamond Jubilee Edition – $22,000

  • avatar

    2002 was the year for me and I was still living in the UK. At that time, exchange rates meant I would have a budget of somewhere between £16,500 & £17,500. Given that kind of money and the hindsight that comes with going back 8 years I would have bought the best spec’ Skoda Octavia I could afford with a diesel. Cheap, well built and nigh on indestructable. It wouldn’t have been super exciting – but they go forever and Skoda’s customer experience is regarded as the best in Europe.

  • avatar

    Wow! What a good time!  Now I’m really dating myself, but I will take a ’64 Impala, 300HP 327 4-speed 2-door HT, with PS/PB, thanks.  I would say convertible, but the 20 year self-maintenance requirement rules it out.  I can do ANYTHING else on this car.

    In the mid 80s my son’s soccer coach had a similar unrestored car and it still ran like Jack the Bear.

  • avatar

    ok let’s see a 1986 saab 900 ( not the vert I own far to expensive) with a 5 speed and what the hell a turbo if i can afford it, I can live with that as my daily driver as a single guy and with kids, a true saab so it should last, as for working on it well not so much but saab fans love to help other saab fans so I will buy the beer and seek friends to do repairs, could not find the MRSP of a 86 saab 900 ( I have about 13K to work with) but I am sure that SAABS back than sold for way under list so I will buy mine on 12/31/86 right after wall st crashed and they had many on the lot

    • 0 avatar

      We are on the same page here. Mentioned the OG a bit above.
      If you do not like working on your cars – you’ll be better of sticking with a non-turbo one.

      But honestly I’d prefer a basic spec 9K – bigger, nicer handling, faster and more versatile.

  • avatar

    This situation fit me exactly when I was 20.  That age happened in 1978 and late that year I ordered a new Pontiac Bonneville, 2-door, bucket seats, full gauge package, firm ride package, and snowflake wheels.  Two years later I got married, a few years later had a daughter, and finally sold the car to my brother in 1999.  The car was never, and I mean never, in the shop for repair–I’m no mechanic but anything that needed doing I did.  It simply didn’t need anything fixed, just maintenance.  The only rust that was showing was on the rear bumper.  Others would say I should have kept the car because it was in great shape for its age, but I was simply getting tired of it!

  • avatar

    Thanks to mnm4ever for clarifying.  My year would be late 1965 so 66s would be out. $25000 today is $3750 in 1966. Impala or Malibu would be my choice.  Much prefer two door hardtop but with family, etc. 4 door would be way to go.   Straight 6 with three on the tree would surely last 20 years and parts are still easily obtainable.  I think some 1966 parts were still in use in the 1986 cars.
    Kookie2s 1964 Impala 300hp 327 has a lot of charm but might be harder to keep up.

  • avatar

    1993 Nissan Pathfinder (4 door).  I had an actual 1987 Pathfinder SE, 2-door, and it gave me an awesome 13 years before Canada’s climate and a complete disregard for taking care of it finally did it in.
    If I actually had given a little effort, 20 years would have been easy.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I faced a similar issue when I was 21. Long story short, a meat truck hit my car. some guys have all the luck.

    I bought a 1994 Camry. Paid for half. Folks paid the other half. If I weren’t involved in the car business on a dialy business it would still be in my garage.

    I bought it back then for $19300. Sunroof, ABS, 4 cylinder, Automatic coupe in red. I was going to have it as my ‘young executive’ car and planned on keeping it for 20 years. Maintained everything on it until I sold it back in 2006 since my auction work resulted in my only driving it 5,000 miles for those past three years.

  • avatar

    1991 for me…
    Ford Ranger Xtra Cab Splash V6. I had one and while it wasn’t the ideal vehicle I simply must have a truck to tow my boat and hate the bulk of full-size trucks. If the Nissan Froniter was available in a Quad Cab version back then I take that instead, with the factory superchanger option too :)

  • avatar

    1989?  Saab 9000S (or turbo if funds will allow).
    Does everything, lasts and lasts, and I’ve been working on them myself for a dozen years as of now.  They’re nowhere near as difficult to master as many people assume.

  • avatar

    From the year 2000:
    1. Some looking around would get you a Subaru Legacy wagon with the unkillable 2.2L engine. And a stick, naturally. Small things would break, but the big bits would see 2020.
    2. Similarly, a bit of looking could get you a 5 speed Volvo turbo wagon. As long as the engine drives the rear wheels, you have a keeper.
    The two other vehicles that come to mind are an MB diesel. Having seen the future, I don’t want anything too thirsty. Buying from the end of MB’s “good” era should see us through. And if I was really scared of the maintenance costs, I’d just get a dirt simple Impala SS.

  • avatar

    In 1970, with the foresight of 2011 hindsight, it would be a Dodge Dart with the slant 6. The left over money would go to Ziebart rustproofing, rebuilt seats (even new) and a set of four snow tires. Alternatively, maybe a Dodge Polara with the slant 6 or the solid lifter 318 V8. All four of us kids drove a 66 version of that beast with the V8; at 180kmiles, our Dad waved goodbye to a mechanic who paid $150 for it and drove it away. The Polara was absolutely gigantic with both a big cabin and a big trunk. Driven 12k miles per year, the engines and trannies at least would make 20 years. Whether the body would do so depended on leaving the Rochester, NY area  or for that matter any part of western NYS. I don’t believe any car made that years could take the salting that was done for 4-5 months of the year for 20 years. For that you’d need a BOF and you’d be replacing the frame and sheet metal every several years – figure two major auto body operations to get to 20 years.

    edit – you bet I left the area ASAP

  • avatar

    It would have to be a 2003 Mazdaspeed Protege, because a Mazdaspeed Miata would be just out of the 21k price cap for that year.

  • avatar
    Andrew Breza

    Well I’m 24 and I’m driving my 2003 Mercury Sable that I might still have when I’m 40.  Pretty standard sedan but it’s treated me well for thousands of miles and many vacations.

  • avatar

    1992 Toyota Camry Wagon.  My dad had the sedan from that year – comfortable and bulletproof.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    I’ll be 20 in two years, can I look into the future? :P
    If I went 20 years back, I’d have to say Crown Vic/Grand Marquis. If you gave me another $10K I’d say Lexus LS400.

  • avatar

    Well, to get back to my honest to God 20 YO self, I’d have to go back in the way back time machine to 1985 and with my experience later on with the 1983 Honda Civic 3door hatch, I’d gladly choose the 1985 Civic wagon, yup, that tall wagon (or its Tercel variant – in red), either will do nicely IMO.
    Both reliable, good with gas, with the 5spd manual, perform decently and add AC for the hot summer months and a decent tape deck, how can you go wrong, it’ll haul the kiddies and one’s crap too and do it in relatively decent style to boot, just choose not to live in the salt belt and it’ll last me 20 years easily!

  • avatar

    Well, I was 20 back in 1996, so the choice would be easy. ’96 Impala SS in Dark Gray Green.
    It has a proven engine, proven transmission, BOF that’s built to last, and cavernous passenger and trunk room. Very easy pick. And, I believe it went for just under $25K in its day.  If we’re supposed to “deflate” the $25K to back then, then it would have to be a used ’94 Impala SS, black, of course.

  • avatar

    Being the old dude around here I have $3,416.00 to spend on a 1961 something or other. Now what 1961 vehicle will last 20 years is the problem. I figure the best bet would be to add about 200 to 300 bucks to the 3,400 and buy two VW beetles and put one away for 10 years. That kind of money would have bought a pretty good looking buick, lincoln or caddy but no way could you make anything like that last 20 years. Especially here in Canada with our winters. The other option would be to outfit one of the VW’s for winter driving and one for summer wear.

  • avatar
    Gypsy Jeepney

    Turned 20 on Christmas Day 1969. In a do-over life, what I’d want under the tree would be the Dodge Dart GTS, droptop, white over red. The heart would be hammering for the 440 but the brain would win with the 340 4bbl as a smarter choice. Technically, the new 5th Generation models would have been out since September, and I could go for a 1970 model. But I actually owned a ’70 Swinger 340 in the late ’70s and really hated the fake hood scoops and other tarty touches.
    But what I got instead was a 1957 TR3, with the optional hardtop and overdrive in the top 3 gears. It cost the not-so-princely sum of $70,  because the airman who owned it thought the tranny was blown. The real problem was a sheared bolt that connected the shifter. I drove it daily for a decade-plus in SoCal and then trucked it to the East Coast in the early ’80s. I still have that little tractor, along with pieces/parts of 18 other TR3s purchased over the years. It ain’t pretty, but with all those parts …  some day … it could be.

  • avatar

    I was 21 in 1977, and that would be easy, I would buy a 1977 Chevy Caprice, in some other color than the baby blue one I got for my mom in 1979. It was comfortable, looked ok, and after some issues were dealt with, totally reliable. There’s a maroon one here locally with a LS motor in it, making about 500HP, and it looks totally like it came from the factory that way. My own car’s 372 HP seems so girly compared to it.

  • avatar

    I almost lived this scenario.
    Bought a 3rd Gen 4Runner in 1998.  Only replaced it as my primary car this year, but still holding onto it.
    Did all the maintenance and repairs myself.
    Saw me through bachelorhood, marriage, and two kids.
    The thing just keeps going and going.  It is indestructible and can handle any road condition.

  • avatar

    I was 20 in 1979… luck would have it- I bought a brand new car that year.
    A 1980 Ford Fairmont Futura with absolutely no options.
    i spent the next 9 years beating the unholy piss out of it and never spent a dime on it other then oil changes and tires.
    Wasn’t much car left that wasn’t rust after 9 years, but I got my money’s worth.

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