Piston Slap: What is The Poor Man's TARDIS?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap what is the poor man s tardis

TTAC commentator horseflesh writes:


Last year I wrote to you seeking the B&B’s help in selling a car. Well, Grandma’s Park Avenue is gone now, in short, I found that the best way to sell a Buick is to befriend a used car dealer and supply him with BBQ meats until he calls some other guys he knows who move a lot of Grandma cars. Done correctly, this takes your friend 5 minutes on the phone, and costs you only 15 minutes at a dealer. It’s a beautiful thing!

But now that the Buick is gone I find myself needing another vehicle… also large, and perhaps also white. I’m looking for something cheap and boxy to haul my toys around in. Mountain bikes, scuba gear, model airplanes… These things can be moved around with a sedan, but it’s a chore and there is never enough room for everything. Oh, there is a Triumph Bonneville 750 in the garage too, so naturally it needs to be taken to the mechanic from time to time. And did I mention the pinball machines that I need to move sometimes? Currently I need to ask friends with trucks for help with those things, and I’d like to become self-sufficient.

So, the ideal vehicle will have a fully enclosed cargo area of TARDIS-like capacity, be indifferent to muddy toys, and be able to haul 500 lbs of broken British motorcycle plus two people. It will be a changing room and occasionally a workshop when a toy breaks. It won’t have to go off-road, but it will have to handle a dirt road. Some kind of sink and potable water tank would be a big plus too–that isn’t mandatory, but being cheap and reliable is.

The ubiquitous Ford E-150 van looks like the right sort of thing, but I don’t know anything about its reliability when well-used, or what other good options might be.

Sajeev Answers:

Yup, you need a full size van. Maybe a Chevy Astro-like Minivan, as they are also cheap and reliable. But the Astro isn’t exactly made for drivers with left feet, so maybe the bigger vans are a smarter idea. Plus, you can get that sink you so greatly desire.

The E-150 is indeed the obvious choice, as it is the 800lb Gorilla in this market. Sprinter Vans are pricey and quite the PITA to service unless you are a certified Sprinter Technician. The older Dodge vans might be okay, but all the ones I’ve experienced suffered from off putting transmission woes. The newer Chevy Express isn’t much to write home about, but the older ones were pretty frickin’ tough and easy on the eyes. You know, for a van.

Oh, and thanks for not giving us a budget to work with. That said, I am assuming you are looking for a beater in the $10,000 or less range…or not much higher.

In that realm? Most definitely the van with the most service records. I’d stick with Fords and Chevys in your price range, with the standard V8, and a smooth (yet not sloppy) shifting transmission. You might find a custom van is your best value, even if you’ll need to hack it up a bit to be more cargo friendly.

Enjoy your rolling TARDIS.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 48 comments
  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Nov 02, 2011

    I noticed that you can now get a Chevy Express full size van with the smaller more economical 4.8 liter engine and the newer designed 6 speed automatic transmission. That would give a reasonable trade off of power and mileage in a large sized serviceable package. A cargo firewall is a smart idea. Love seeing one of my favorite show beings mentioned here. The Tardis is of course dimensional transcendental which means larger on the inside than outside with the form of a police public call box making up the exterior. This happened because when Dr Who first appeared in 1963 his ship got stuck in the police box shape trying to fit in with the local surroundings while his granddaughter Susan went to Coal Hill school. Two of her school teachers Barbara and Ian Chesterton grew very curious about her extreme knowledge of science and Social Studies (as if she actually experienced these events)and decided to follow her home one night finding themselves in an old junk yard with the Tardis and were soon whisked off into time and space for the adventures of there lives. This show is now listed in the Guinness book as both longest running series and longest running sci-fi shows of all time which is testament to the genius that went into the making of this show, all it's monsters and clever plots, the Tardis, the fact that when the Dr wears out his old body he can regenerate into a new one thus giving a new actor a chance to play the part after the previous one decides to bow out after 3-5 years playing the part. This of course was one of the reasons this show has lasted so long giving constant change and renewal and fresh blood to the part along with new locations, ideas and endless plot possibilities. It is currently enjoying 10 plus million viewers in England and is watched in many countries around the world. End history lesson

  • Mechimike Mechimike on Mar 14, 2013

    Pickup with one of these: http://www.roadflares.org/gallery/main.php?g2_view=core.DownloadItem&g2_itemId=6035&g2_serialNumber=2 The bed cover, that is. Trailer-fear is irrational, BTW. I drive that truck with that 30' car hauler everywhere, and I'm astounded by how maneuverable it is. I can spin it around in a suburban cul-de-sac.

  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.