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

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • 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.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.