By on December 29, 2011

Have you ever bought a car that was cheaper than dirt?

I’m not talking about a $2000 Shoney’s special that was owned by an elder statesmen or grand-mama. I’m talking cheap. As in cheaper than a Vegas wedding with a fake Elvis and a bottle of leftover hooch from the last couple that got hitched.

$500. $100. Free. Negative amounts. Nothing is better than cheap. Unless it’s also good.


Back in 2002 I was working at a nearby public auto auction that should have been given a bright red neon sign that read, “End Of The Line!” The cars were as rough as a worn out mop, and the dealers bordered between the usurious and the felonious.

Every Thursday night we went through the’ inoperable’ vehicles before having the regular sale. Attendance was ‘VERY’ optional with the inops. No more than ten dealers would go look at these vehicles and everyone bidding already ‘knew’ each other. Prices for an inop car back then were about as much as a good cell phone is now.

They weren’t buying much. Almost every one of these vehicles was worth more dead than alive and the final bid  prices reflected it. $100 here. $200 there. Untold numbers of Lebarons, Celebritys and Caravans. The amounts were  like a P2P lending enterprise except what the buyers invested in was ‘dead metal’ that couldn’t walk away with your money as easily.

Some were parts cars. Others were ‘bankable’ crusher fodder. Junkyards and recyclers would have acres upon acres used just to plant an old car and wait for metal prices to go the way of the Chinese economy.

I would do the bid calling. Sometimes work the ring… and then one day, I bought.

A nearby Chevy dealer had decided to get rid of a 1993 Subaru Impreza. 4-cylinder. 4-speed shlushomatic. Oh, and the color of the paint? None. Nothing. Somebody had decided to remove all of the paint off the vehicle as well as the battery.

It had been a repo from a nearby mechanic’s shop and thanks to GMAC’s liberal financing terms at the time, the dealership had zero interest in putting any more money into it.

Thankfully so did the other dealers that day. $200 went to $100… then fifty… fifty… fifty. NO SALE! On to the next car.

After the last inop vehicle was sold I went to the owner of the auction whose brother happened to own the Chevy dealership, “Hey. Do you think I can buy that Subaru for $25?”

I was afraid to ask. But without a moments hesitation he said ‘Sure!’, and the sale was written up. Price $25. Tax $1.25. Buy fee $50. Total $76.25.

The next day I came by with a new battery for $30 (remember those days!). I checked the fluids. Started the vehicle. “HOLY>>> it ran!”

The good news was that it ran. The bad news was that it wouldn’t go anywhere. No matter how hard I pushed the shifter, I could not put the thing out of park. A thousand stressful thought poured into my novice head.  Was the transmission or shift linkage bad? Do I need to give this thing a Fonzi kick? Well, at least the engine sounded good.

I went to the Ultimate Subaru Message Board to divine an answer.  Apparently the shift lock mechanism needed to be  replaecd according to the Subaru faithful. I went back the next day with part in hand. Fixed it. Drove it. Perfect car.

By this time in my life though I already had ‘the auction bug’. No matter what I bought, I knew that it would be sold. So I cleaned it up a bit. Put it on Ebay and watched a painfully slow bidding process. The price was only in the $600 range until the very last day. An hour left? $900.  I sweated it for a while. Took a nice long walk. Came home and…

$1576. To a guy from California!

Two weeks later I was greeted by a Rally Coordinator from Subaru who proceeded to take my $25 car and drive it all the way back to Southern California. A few years later I checked on the Carfax history and sure enough, 50,000 miles later, it was still on the road.

That was the cheapest car I ever bought. What’s yours?

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85 Comments on “Hammer Time: Your Cheapest Car Ever...”

  • avatar

    My parents bought an International Harvester Scout for a symbolic $1. Sadly, they got rid (again for $1) before I was born.

  • avatar

    What did it cost you to repaint the car (assuming the pictures are of your car)?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Never repainted it. If I had used the cheapest paint job available for dealers at the time, it would have been around $160. A ‘good’ basecoat clearcoat paint job would have been about $300.

      A couple of months after I bought the Impreza, I got a red 1988 Toyota MR2 with 114k for only $225. I could have conceivably taken care of my family’s automotive needs for only around $700 altogether. The MR2 needed a fuel pump and I’m sure that the belts would have needed to be replaced. But that one I sold on Ebay for $2712 to a guy from Michigan.

      I ended up selling a lot of vehicles on Ebay over the next several years. That’s a story for another day.

    • 0 avatar

      I was in grad school in Boulder in the mid-1980’s. I bought a Datsun 510 sedan for $75. One of the rear doors was a bit dented and difficult to open and close, but it ran great. I spent more on tires than I did on the car. Drove it for three years, then sold it for $400. Other under $200 vehicles in my past include a Toyota pick up, a Fiat 128 sedan, a Plymouth Valiant (push-button automatic on the dash) and a Volvo station wagon. I would put “do you want to sell this car”? notes on cars that sat un-driven for a while. It was a quick and easy way to “fix and flip” and put some extra cash in my starving student’s pocket.

  • avatar

    In 1979, I bought my first car, a 1967 Dodge Polara 4 door sedan, for a pair of Radio Shack speakers (just crappy bookshelf speakers that I had paid $50 for a couple years earlier) and $50 cash. It was from a friend who had bought a new (get ready for this) AMC Spirit. Ugh. Better than his roommate’s Pacer, I guess.
    The Polara cost me nothing to safety. My stepfather worked on it one weekend to check over the brakes, exhaust, etc. It had after market a/c that worked great. It had 95,000 miles, if I remember correctly. I cleaned it up, removed the fake fur my buddy had taped to the (uncracked)dash and drove that car for a year, only replacing the muffler. The 318 was burning a bit of oil, but otherwise the car ran great. It had some bondo on the back quarter panels, but wasn’t too noticeable, however, one more Ontario winter and the old gal started showing a few tatters. (I discovered she was from Florida, which explained her very existence in Ontario after all those years.)
    When I moved out of the family homestead, I couldn’t afford the $200 insurance and $60 parking, plus my rent, so I sold the Polara for $400.
    I guess Ontario Motor Vehicle computers were slow in those days, because about 3 months later my stepfather got a visit from the local constabulary at 1 a.m.: my old Polara had been involved in a hit and run. A sad end to the grand old lady.

  • avatar

    I once bought a 1985 Honda Accord with a 5 speed stick and a blown timing belt for $50. I put a new timing belt and a new battery in it and it ran great. Only problem was that 5th gear was gone in tranny (where did it go?!?).

  • avatar

    Mine wasn’t cheap, so much as a great deal. In the spring of ’06, I was attending an auction benefitting our church. I man had donated his 1995 Plymouth Voyager with 134k miles and meticulous service records. As there was very little interest, I snagged the van for $750.

    It served very well for 5 months until a guy pulled out of an intersection into the Voyager’s side. Sheetmetal damage from front to back, but nothing else. Insurance totaled it, giving me “only” $2400. I bought the salvage rights for $70 and kept on driving. A year after I bought it, it failed inspection and I donated it to NPR’s membership drive for a $495 tax deduction.

    Now if all my cars had arithmetic like that… .

    • 0 avatar

      Speaking of Saabs….bought 2000 9-5 in October for $1650. Six thousand miles in 3 months plus a few hundred for maintenance and I’m rolling in entry level luxury.

      As most find there is just an understanding needed and usually a bulletin board/forums for the answer to most questions.

  • avatar

    I got my first car in 1997, a 1988 VW Fox. 4 speed stick, gold paint and original alloy wheels. I happened to be at my friends house as they were discussing having the car hauled away. I immediately asked if it still ran and was told it did but that’s about it. I went outside and walked around it, then her dad says, “you can have it if you want.” Being a teenager with no car I jumped all over it, drove it home that night. FREE. Driver’s window was missing, most of the dash was in the trunk, no reverse, fan didn’t blow, no radio and roughly 265,000 on the odo. But boy did that engine run like a champ!

    Over the following weekend I put the dash back together, got the window replaced, bought a cheap stereo, and discovered that the a/c worked – it would blow ice cold air once you drove fast enough for air to naturally blow into the cabin. Reverse was fixed, went out, fixed again. Drove the car all over Florida with never a mechanical breakdown. Gas gauge would go to Full but get stuck somewhere on the way down, so once in a while I ran out of gas. I sold it to a friend for $400 when the master cylinder went out, somewhere over 325,000 on the clock. He drove it around using the handbrake for months. I miss that car!

  • avatar

    I got a free Hyundai Accent for a stint, but it was a hand-me-down from my parents who didn’t need it anymore, and wanted me in something more dependable than my beater Cavalier. It meant switching back from a stick shift to a slushbox, but free is free.

    But I’m still more fond of my old $100 ’93 Escort. It was an ex-Newfoundland car (re. more rust than car), so a friend of mine had initially bought it off a coworker for $100 as a parts car. But, it ran well and had low mileage, so he ended up selling it to me after swapping out the aftermarket cd player. For a couple hundred bucks more (and some monumentally terrible body work), it was back on the road for another 8 months, until it got written off.

  • avatar

    My wife’s great uncle (WWl vet) decided to stop driving. This was February 1988. He gave us his car. It was a 1980 LeBaron coupe, light yellow, tan interior, 225, auto, A/C, manual windows, PS, PB. Nice car…until I looked at the driver’s side – sideswiped!

    It turned out he sideswiped a semi and didn’t say anything, and it appeared that the semi didn’t even realize he hit or got hit and just kept going. Well, I did some digging and it turned out when it happened, her uncle was still insured. I dropped by State Farm and they said they would cover it! $50 deductable! $1600 damage! Fixed by Chrysler! I was in business!

    After the car was fixed, I sold our 1981 Reliant to a neighbor who always waited for us to sell a car, as he knew I took good care of them.

    A few issues arose. The rear axle was bent as a result of the accident. Insurance covered half. Not bad. The water pump kept going out and the car was kind of sluggish, so I drove out to my buddy’s place to have him look at it. He shook the fan and it was just a bad fan clutch. Fixed. Wow! The car had some get-up-and-go now!

    I customized the dash a bit, as the chrome dial and trim edges were wearing off, so I cleaned all that up and the dash looked great. Installed my old cassette radio and I was good to go. I slapped a Batman sticker on the left side of the trunk lid after “Batman” came out and it forever came to be known by our kids as the “Batmobile”! I sold it two years later when we bought our 1990 Acclaim to a guy at the Dodge dealer. He kept that car for several years and we even saw it every time we came back to Florissant, Mo after we moved to Cincinnati in 1992, “Batman” sticker intact!

    No, the car wasn’t free, but it didn’t cost me all that much either and I had lots of fun with it in the meantime.

  • avatar

    About 5 years ago I bought an 89 Dodge ram W250 Pick Up with 4 wheel drive for $800 off the original owner. It had 74k original miles. The guy wanted $1600 but the 4 wheel drive wouldnt work. I offered $800 and took it off his hands. A new vacuum line, the 4wd worked again and I washed and waxed her, through on a plow I had and made alot of money with her in the 4 years I owned her. She didnt owe me a dime. One day I guy offered me $4000 for it. I couldnt refuse. Best money maker I ever owned.

  • avatar

    Personally? My ’76 LeSabre Custom 455 hardtop. Bought it for $200. Cost me more in gas to get it from PA back home to FL, but I love her still.

    Professionally? Sold an ’06 Wrangler Unlimited to a guy who, when asked if he had a plate to transfer off another vehicle (costing him $86 instead of $410…God Bless Florida), volunteered both a plate and the car it was bolted to – a ’95 Cherokee 4-door. Had 140k miles and he said it would “make a good parts car for a Jeeper.” Gave me the keys and the title

    Well, a driver’s quarter window, windshiel, 4 quarts of oil, a full resivoir of coolant, and however much brakes fluid these things take later, this thing was ready to go. Started up, ran great, ice-cold A/C. Gave it to my friend for gratis and he still has it today, two years later.

    • 0 avatar

      My second car was a ’76 Buick Riviera, bought for $200. My dad knew a guy that had it sitting outside his garage, it had not been run in a year. Oil change and a new battery, started right up. I drove it for a couple of years, IIRC I sold it for $500. I liked that car, but between the 455 and a gas tank that leaked at the seam, it was getting pretty expensive to run.

  • avatar

    You can usually rebuild those Subaru shift lock mechanisms with some grease and some washers, or at least that’s what I did to mine to make it work and I haven’t had a problem with it since. Just as a back up plan, I drilled a hole above the shift mechanism bypass that allows me to jam a pen in there to allow it to shift just in case.

    Apparently somebody had spilled a bottle of soda on the shifter of my Legacy and gunked everything up causing it not to work. I bought the Legacy for a grand a few years ago as a beater to drive while I finished one of my other project vehicles. The Legacy sort of became a project of its own, as I got it cheap because it needed head gaskets, struts and brakes, which I promptly installed.

    Welp, the project vehicle never got finished so I sold it, but I still have my beater Legacy, which runs like a champ. It’s actually a pretty nice car with full leather and a sunroof and everything.

  • avatar

    Back in 2008, Mom gave me her pristine 1994 Buick LeSabre with less than 25K miles on the odometer. The only cost to me was the change in title. She was no longer driving and the car was barely being used for occasional local errands. It’s still my daily driver.

  • avatar

    Cheapest car ever was a 1983 RX7 we got for the price of “get it out of my yard,” about 6 years ago. $40 flat-deck later and it was in my yard after sitting in their yard for 2 years.
    It wasn’t running, and it needed some metal put in the floor, but otherwise wasn’t bad.
    Had the engine running in about 45 minutes or so that weekend. Ran great. Never got around to doing the floor. It sat in my yard for 2 years, then we parted it out for $500-600, not including some parts we used on some of our other cars.

    On another note, I just sold my trusty 1993 Subaru Impreza automatic beater a few months ago. Got $400 for it.

  • avatar

    I got a ’77 Rabbit 4 dr. automatic for $200 back in 1990. I got ripped off. I spent more time pushing it, towing it, and sleeping in it on the side of the road than I did driving it.

  • avatar

    My first car was a $500 ’85 Subaru GL-10, that ran for 5 years. In the late 90’s, I bought an 85′ Renault Encore for $250 that we ran around town in until, well, until the police took it away. Then I bought an ’83 Chevette for $250 that lasted for about 2 years of college until my roommate took it on a 300 mile drive with no oil in it (it leaked everything, so you had to top it up, he kept checking the transmission dipstick and thinking that was the oil so that it was fine). It never ran again but we had some classic times with that car. Then for $100 we bought an ’83 Oldsmobile Toronado, which only lasted one night, as my roommate took it over a curb, tore out the 60lb starter from underneath, and I blew a bunch of circuits by not disconnecting the battery while trying to replace the starter, and we never got her to start again. We had a lot of fun and decent luck with super-cheap cars back then.

  • avatar

    My best deal was a 1965 Impala SS that I bought in college for $50. It had been some guy’s fishing car and was pretty beat; plywood covering the rusted out floor, tough to start in the cold, but once started it ran fine. About all that I put into it was a couple of cheap tires to replace the nearly bald back rubber. I can’t remember if I even changed the oil. I sold it a year later for $60 to a guy who just wanted the 283 out of it for a race car he was building.

  • avatar

    The one that got away…

    I went to look at an ad that said 1959 Mercury $500.
    I show up and meet a very nice old lady. She says her son had to leave that was managing the sale for her, however she would show me the car since I drove a long way. She says the car has been in the garage since the early 60’s.

    OMG!!! It was a beautiful, absolutely perfect white 2 door beauty with four flat tires and 24,000 miles on the clock. I believed the miles and not even any surface rust on anything. Captain Picard would have approved of the styling.

    I told her I wanted the car. She said that was good and I could get it the next day when her son was there. I insisted that she take my $100 deposit. She took it, but could not see up close good enough to write a receipt. I said OK, see you tomorrow at 11:00 am.

    I show up the next day only to see the garage door is open and the car is gone! I ask where is the car?
    The older lady says to me “This nice man came by this morning and bought it an hour ago. He even gave me an extra $100 to give to you. He was so nice!

    The older lady was so sweet I could not say anything negative. But I did take the $200 since I rented a trailer!

  • avatar

    1967 Buick Wildcat. $200, spotted by my postal worker friend who’d seen it on his route. He told me it was a four-door and seriously ugly… I had to think about that one a bit. A four-door sedan? The “car of the enemy” in my youth? Meh. I was deeply into British sports cars at the time, so this thing was pure anathema. But, I went to look anyway.

    I arrived to find it parked in a shallow ditch. Rattle-can magenta paint job. Ugh. But, it turned over and almost started. Hm. I took the carb off, ran to a parts store and snagged a rebuild kit. I cleaned up the Quadrajet on my front porch, brought it back to the Wildcat and bolted it back on.

    She started right up.

    The moment I pulled out onto the street and mashed the gas, I was in hooked. 430 4-barrel. Dual exhaust. Plush gold GM brocade interior. 20 feet long. I felt like a man who’d been dating Twiggy, suddenly being seduced by Jane Russell… or was it abducted by Tura Satana? Thus began my decade-long love affair with big-ass, big block 60’s GM cars.

    I put over 60K on that Wildcat before I reluctantly sold it to a friend, who promptly killed it.

  • avatar

    A few years ago my dad got a 97 Taurus SHO off of a guy for free at the apartment complex he used to work at. The guy had it sitting behind the building for like two years before we got it. We got AAA to tow it to the house, put a new battery added some oil to it, and the damn thing started right up. He ended up selling it to his brother that needed a car about two years later for $50.

  • avatar

    1984 Plymouth Reliant. Well used and abused. Silver/Black exterior. Red Interior. Bench seat. Four Speed manual transmission. No tach. Yes, I said 4 speed; nearly impossible to get into reverse. Rumour was that Chrysler had to make some base model Reliants and K’s to settle a consumer complaint in which they advertised a really cheap car that didn’t actually exist. Hence they manufactured a few really spartan models with manual transmissions etc. of which my car was one.

    Received from a friend instead of the $276 cash owed to me for the emergency purchase and installation of a radiator at Canadian Tire on the Friday of a long weekend somewhere between Toronto and Magnetawan many, many months earlier. His credit card was denied. I had one in my pocket that belonged to my father (for emergencies only!). I paid for the radiator (it was already installed) and became an very unsecured creditor.

    Not long afterwards, my 1980 Toyota Tercel succumbed to the ravages of rust, and the wire coat hangers that held the rear shock towers in place were no longer deemed acceptable by the authorities. I was without a car for the summer of 91 and my buddy, who was never able to come up with the $276, received a nearly new Jeep from his absentee and guilt ridden parents. I was grateful for the hand-me-down Reliant, which had been cast aside as unlovable.

    Drove that car all around Southwestern Ontario for about 8 months or so. Even raced disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson down Hwy 400 – he in his Testarossa and me in my Reliant – weaving in and out of traffic as only an oblivious teenager can. Often found myself running at highway speeds in 3rd gear instead of 4th (again – no tach) as the music was up too loud to hear the engine complaining. Car was indestructible.

    Gave it to my sister upon leaving the country to go backpacking for a year. Very simple exchange – if it runs when I get back, it’s mine. If it dies while I’m away, we won’t speak of its demise.

    Came back in fall of 1992 and found my sister had not only kept it running, but had foolishly put a new tranny in it. I promptly stuck a u-haul on the back of it and drove it from Toronto to Edmonton for grad school. Couldn’t afford insurance so I parked it at a disgruntled classmates’s for the winter (it didn’t have a working choke anyway) and waited for the school year to end. Drove it back and forth from Edmonton to Toronto a number of times without incident, although I seem to recall a small engine fire in Detroit at one point. Nothing but a very hot engine and various leaking fluids having a party under the hood.

    The car also made a trip across the Rockies from Edmonton to Whistler, BC and down to Bellingham, WA and back. I also took it camping to Lake Louise most weekends. It didn’t like the Edmonton winters much though. I used to start it and jam a snow brush between the gas pedal and the front seat until the car warmed up enough to drive (15 minutes or longer). It was also the victim a break and enter – they got in, stole my tapes (including my much missed Bourbon Tabernacle Choir tape) and some camping gear. They smashed the ignition switch and got the car started too, but couldn’t figure out how to get it into reverse so it just idled until a neighbour told me the car was running with the door open in the alley behind the house I was renting near U of A.

    I ended up living in Calgary and took the car with me. Used to take it up and down Hwy 2 to visit my girl in Edmonton all the time.

    It got up to around 300,000 km before I gave up going to the junkyard to get parts for it. And I never, ever did a brake job on it in all the time I owned it. It died on the streets of Calgary some time in the late 90s. It may still be parked near 4th street and 17th avenue…..

  • avatar

    I bought a 500 dollar 1995 Eagle Vision and it was a piece of crap but I really needed a car. The steering bushes were cooked so it felt like I was driving a boat. I could turn the wheel 180 degrees and it would not turn.

    I then purchased a 1977 Celica for 500 bucks it ran really good just had all sorts of problems (alternator went bad, shocks, exhaust, just about everything).

    I pulled all the salvageable parts off that car and had it crushed and bought a 76 Celica for $190 dollars at a police auction. It was a good deal cause the body is nice and straight.

    I will have more 500 dollars cars in my future. My fiance hates Craigslist.

  • avatar

    I once got a 1983 Chevy Caprice with 80k miles on it for free. Old lady wanted her garage back and her grandson asked me to haul it away. Do with it what you want.

    $50 to rent a trailer, let it sit in my yard for a few months, and the kid came back and bought it from me for $300. As far as I know he is still driving it (I wanted to do LeMons with it but he needed a ride.)

    I would have just given it back to him for the $50, but he insisted on paying me for it. It was sort of reverse haggling, and $300 was the lowest he would go. He really appreciated me helping him and his grandma out.

    The cheapest car I ever bought and drive; a 1992 Nissan 240sx. I was at this sketchy dealership looking at another car and I saw this 240sx in the back lot. It was a trade in, not even online yet, and it had 189k on it.

    I took it for a test drive, and found that more than a few things (like the speedo) weren’t working. But it drove great.

    He was gonna ask $3,000. I drove it off the lot for $700, including tax title and registration after we got all Guido and found out we knew some of the same people. I drove that car for like 18 months before selling it, sans the engine, for $1,200.

  • avatar

    My very first car…a 1986 Ford Escort 2dr with a 5 speed and 160k on the clock. Bought it from a friend for $250 because it had a misfire and he thought the head gasket was going out. Spent $4.80 on spark plugs for it, and drove it for a few months until the clutch went out. Sold it for $500! Did roughly the same with my next car (a 1988 Escort wagon….). $1300, 40k miles later, sold for $1300. Just saw it on the streets by where I grew up, over 10 years later.

  • avatar

    I know that today is Pile On the GM X-Car Day, but my 1985 Buick Skylark was a reliable “5-5-5” car for me. $500 to buy , lasted 5 years, cost approx $500 in total repairs–including my immediate purchase of a used windshield ( I bought it shortly after it had gotten untangled from a barbed-wire fence ).
    Accident left deep scars in the hood paint and small tears in the vinyl roof that got worse over time and necessitated an eventual tear-off.
    Great car for kids learning to drive. Iron Duke and automatic. 0 to 50 in decent time but 50-70 took half the width of Nebraska. Left on a slightly-warped rear wheel that shook at 65 and told kid, “All old cars with that many miles do that. Costs more than the car is worth to fix. Live with it.”

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I am the last stop before the crusher. When I find a model of car I like, I stick with it. I drove 6 volt bugs for 20 yrs. I mostly got them for less than 100$, and used parts from the previous bug to keep it going. I drove a 58, which I pulled off a lawn for zip, for 5 yrs. I did the same with a 50$ Dart. I bought my last Grand Wagoneer for 500$. My present fixation is 88 528es. I have 2 runners and 2 parts cars. My last 528e, was lightly (or so I thought) damaged. I picked it up for 500$, and used parts from another of the same paint code to fix it. With only 117K miles on it, I was determined to resurrect it. It turned into a wicked time user, It took me 10 months of spare time to fix the collision and rust repair. I’ve been driving the car for 3 yrs now.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    1966 Plymouth Bevedere I – $15 – 3 months use
    1973 Ford Pinto – $50 – 6 months use
    1966 Rambler American – $500 – 3 years as 4-door back up
    1968 GMC Handivan – $800 – 3 months use but it traveled across the US and back before being totaled.

    As amazing as it seems, I’ve had my current car and the one before it for 10 and 13 years respectively. But in my driving history (especially earlier), I’ve owned over 20+ vehicles.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1971 VW Super Beetle that I bought from the parents of a friend. Paid $1,000 for it, mostly money from flipping burgers for two years. I blew up the engine twice. By the end I could drop a motor and install a new one in under an hour with no assistance.

    Anyway, the last time the motor went I decided I’d had enough and just got a nice Peugeot road bike. I was in college and could get everywhere I needed to go with pedal power. My mom was upset because I couldn’t drive up to Dallas to visit my bed-ridden grandmother. My uncle was selling his ’88 Mazda B2200 to make room for his bass boat. Several hours of haggling later and I had the truck.

    The cost: wax the boat.

    To be fair, it had almost 300,000 miles on the clock, the exhaust was fully rusted out, the cat was clogged, the AC was seized, the ignition switch was inoperable (jam a screwdriver into the tumbler, voila), and it smoked, probably due to bad rings, evidenced by the fact it didn’t have enough power to ascend a hill greater than 10 degrees without requiring a downshift.

    I drove it for two years before the rings, main bearings, or possibly the entire engine gave up. I was about to graduate and didn’t want to mess with it, so I listed it in the newspaper for $500. Within two days it was sold. A farmer showed up with a trailer and took him away to get aheart transplant and a new lease on life.

    Good truck.

  • avatar

    I bought an inop at a rolling stock auction (mostly heavy equipment and battered fleet vehicles)… the charity donations were parked along the back field next to the pile of rusted out 60’s Thunderbird convertibles. I was in high school, and my dad and I went around with a jumper box to see what would crank or start. A few cars caught my eye, a Saturn, a Mitsubishi, and an old Volvo sedan. The Mitsu went too high, a whopping 750, and the Volvo was the next to come up… I got into the bidding at 200 and it petered out about 450, but after a long pause someone else bid 475, and I had to do a gut check to see if I really wanted it… yes. $500.

    My new ride? A 1987 Volvo 740 Turbo Sedan, a “turbobrick”, it was even a brick-red color. It had 257,000 miles on it, and an automatic transmission. I drove it home, with dad following in case something bad happened, cleaned out the cheerios and crayons, changed the oil and dropped in a new battery, and proceeded to drive the living snot out of that like only a senior in high school could do. Before I parted with it I had taken it to a few auto-crosses, driven all over the East Coast, and had hauled kayaks to many a river put–in. I ended up replacing the windshield, starter motor, tires, and brakes, and figured out that the wastegate of the turbocharger was hanging on by one loose bolt, which I tightened. I got to be an expert at cleaning the contacts on the window switches, because one would go out every other month or so. The AC compressor failed, causing the belt to shred, but since it had a separate drive I just left it without air.

    The demise of the car was not mechanical. I, being three whole years older than when I first bought the brick, was speeding down to Spring Break, and got pulled over by the cops doing something recklessly close to 29 over in a 65… as a result I lost my license and sold the car to help pay the fine & lawyer’s fees. Sold to a friend for $475, with 283,000 miles. I believe it’s still on the road.

  • avatar

    My first car (bought in the 80’s when I was 16.) was an early 70’s Pontiac Ventura with a straight 6 and holes in the floorboards. I paid a friend of one of my mom’s friends (from a different state no less) $200.00.

    Well, not only were the floorboard rusted out, but a good part of the firewall and frame were discovered to be gone when it was taken in for inspection. So the car was basically junk.

    Sold it to a guy for $50 that needed a parts car.

    Best part – the seller never cashed my check (I think my mom laid a pretty good guilt trip into her friend.)

    So I made a profit on the first car I ever owned.

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    The year was 1989.

    The girlfriend needed a car. A cheap car.

    Being cheap, and having a stable of cheaply acquired full-sized 1968 Chevrolets, the hunt began.

    I found a 1967 Bel-Air. 283 2bbl. Powerglide. Power steering, amazingly, but nothing else. Faded. Rusty. Chugging exhaust leak. Ripped seats. Started and ran like a top, but smoked upon startup and idle. Did I mention the rust?

    The miles were uncountable.

    Guy wanted $100. I pulled up in my Caprice and, upon seeing my ride, he went inside and returned with a six pack of cheap domestic beer. We had quite a conversation, and over the consumption of said swill he dropped the price to $50 and shook my hand.

    She drove it for two years. I stripped some parts, and sold the car for $250.

    Over a decade later, when back in the old college town, I spotted it, still missing the front bumper and still in service.

  • avatar

    The cheapest car to have been had by anybody I know was an 85ish Olds Brougham something or other. The previous owner thought the transmission was shot and sold it to a friend-of-mine’s dad for $50. It turned out to be a $25 part and 1 hour’s worth of labor and it was good as new.

    My cheapest car personally was a 93 Escort LXi – ~95-195k miles (never could tell since it only had the 5 digit odo) – that I got for $450, not entirely cheap by the standards of this forum post, but it ran and I didn’t need to do too much to it. Unfortunately, it had a very slow transmission leak – previous owner said it was oil – that ultimately did the car in after reverse and first gave up the ghost. I could get an easy 25mpg out of that thing and that was driving it like a raped ape.

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    Back in the early sixties it was quite common to buy old Chevs and Fords for $35, then put “unsatisfied judgement” insurance (which meant there was no insurance) on the ownership. My first two cars were Chevs. First was a 1938 which lasted a week before a buddy ditched it and the OPP had Barjack from Brougham tow it away. I refused to pay the $50 towing charge so he kept the car. The second was a 1951/2 Chev which I drove all summer 1965 and sold for the same $35 when I went off to university in the fall. The engine blew a few weeks later but I think the guy I sold it to abused it.

  • avatar

    1993 Impreza L, 1.8L, 5MT, AWD. Paid $4500 for it in 1999 w/ 84k miles. I drove it until 130k miles in 2003 when I gave it to my youngest brother. I had upgraded to a 2001 Impreza 2.5RS, 2.5L, 5MT, AWD. When I bought my 2007 GTI in 2007, I, again, gave my Impreza to my youngest brother. He’s still driving it. Other than the rust on the rear quarter, those are pretty solid little cars.

  • avatar

    My first car was a gift from my parents, though I wouldn’t call it cheap. The cheapest car I had experience with is my friend’s Audi 4000, bought for $100. The hood is tied up with wires, and the trunk is secured with a bicycle lock. No grilles either, and the headlamp appear to be VW Jetta’s. But we went everywhere in that thing!

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    In ’83, a ’71 Valiant for $150. The seller was asking $100 w/o the battery but the 3 day old receipt for same made me realize I’d rather trade money for time that afternoon and get rolling. I don’t think it ever ran faster than 60 mph, which was more than adequate on the islands. It would top out at 50 mph heading up the mountain, which made me giggle whenever I thought about it being my turn as the slowpoke who was holding up the upcountry/downcountry commuters.

    The cooling system worked better when I removed the pressure cap. After filling the radiator in the morning, the car would still have about 3/4 of its depth filled with reddish-brown fluid at day’s end. It could go for 2 days of low energy cruising before I needed to run a hose to the open radiator.

    The overboosted power steering was the pinnacle of numbness, which was offset by the car’s tracking very well at any wheel angle. It handled the island’s secondary and tertiary roads with aplomb, making it a quintessential “Maui cruiser” vehicle. Dirt and mud were frequently washed away, which kept the car’s chassis free from corrosion, the number one killer of cars on the Pacific islands.

    In the summer of ’86, I made the switch to Chrysler’s turbo-fwd camp. I sold the Valiant, sans stereo, for $600 to a windsurfer. I felt terrible inside as I knew what would happen to the slow but reliable vehicle; on the islands, windsurfers were always a car’s final owner.

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    Fall of 1969… bought a 1964 Opel Kadette wagon (cited by Car and Driver as the worst car ever built) for $30. Bought “rights” to another (allowing me to take any and all parts) in a nearby junkyard for $25. Between the two, got one car to pass inspection.

    Drove the car until spring 1973, when the passenger seat fell through the floorboard. But in those yerars I put over 25,000 miles on it.

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    1983 Dodge Rampage – FREE! It was 1990, I was 17, no driver’s license, and despite not being a fan at all, getting ready to head from CT to Ohio for a Grateful Dead tour.

    A friend had this car in his driveway, and gave it to me, with the caveat that it needed new front brakes. Badly.

    I acquired new brake pads, and the night before we were set to head out, we attempted to put them on the car. The wheel lugs where rusted on good and solid, and we managed to break two on each side of the front wheels before giving up and heading out with the bad brakes.

    We got to Ohio fine, and around town for a couple of days. Then, the last day of shows, we were heading to a friend’s college and the brakes went. Completely. Thankfully, it was a flat, rural part of the state with lots of straight road and open space. As an intersection approached I would take my foot off the gas, downshift the auto transmission, and when I got to the stop sign, slam it into park.

    This got us to the college where I then signed the title, and left it in the lot with a big “Free car! No brakes!” sign.

    Someone apparently grabbed it, put brakes on it, and drove it for the rest of the semester.

  • avatar

    Have two cheap ones in my life:

    April 1962 just out of radio school at MCRD San Diego. Five of us kicked in $25 each. A 1950 Ford, six. It was driven from San Diego to Jackson Michigan, with stops a in OK City, St Louis, Kankakee, Il, Chicago to Jackson MI to let people off. Burned 16 Gallons of oil, three tires, Retired in Jackson. (the car)

    1974 through 1978: Working class neighborhood in Chicago. Policemen and Firemen, all working in neighborhoods where you did not want to travel in a good car at Midnight on a Saturday and no parking lots. One has to get to work, a 1968 Nova 4 door,six, stripper held together with carbon and bondo. Sold among the neighbors as needed, flat price of $100, I had it twice, do not know where it wound up, took a second job and finally popped for a decent ride.

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    A few years ago when I briefly entertained the idea of LeMons racing I found a 1984 Nissan Sentra wagon for $100. It was a manual and it fired right up. When I went to buy it the crazy lady selling it said, “The spare tire and battery are not included in the deal.” So an extra $20 was spent on the battery. It drove onto the trailer I brought, and then I parked it in a friends vacant lot for 6 monthes after which I could get it to turn over but never run longer then the amount of gas I poured into the carb would allow. I finally had a scrap yard come haul it off for free.

    I also bought a 1989 suburban (with either 112k or 212k on it) about 5 years ago for $1000 which I still use to this day for boat towing and home depot runs. It has EFI and cranks every time. I’ve put 4 new tires on it, 2 starters, 2 batteries, a stereo and a serpentine belt. And it actually isn’t too bad on gas – probably like 15mpg mixed not towing. My wife doesn’t really understand but there is something kind of fun about a truly cheap ass car in running condition.

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    150 CAD for a 1990 SAAB 900T16 at a dealer auction in Japan. 115 000 km.
    Shipment was free to me through an arrangement too complicated to discuss here, so having paid another 150 in misc fees and taxes I had it ready to roll. Slowly. The boost did not happen. Spent a couple days on web forums and with electrical schematics and made it work. Then came another few hundred bucks over several months to make it run/feel even better. Sold it for 3000 after I got my Japanese Mercedes 400E. With all of 40 000 km on it. It was SO MUCH better that I could not make myself drive the old SAAB anymore.

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    As I type this, my old-enough-to-know-better wife and my very-trusting mother-in-law are stuck in NE Colorado waiting for a local auto shop to replace the starter on the “FREE” 1992 Buick Roadmaster Estate station wagon given to us by my father-in-law. This particular car has 180k+ miles on the LT1 push-rod engine and it apparently wouldn’t start last night after the last stop for gas. Even before starting this trip, this “FREE” car needed $600 in brake work. I had suggested to my wife that this wasn’t a good idea, but…well, refer back to the beginning of this story.

    Anyway, there’s not much that Visa can’t fix, so I can’t wait to see the “FREE” car eventually. And to the guy that said, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” you’re an a**hole.

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    It was a $200 5 speed ’85 MR2 back in ’90. Funnest car ever and drove that thing like it was stolen! Let all my friends drive it and they loved it. Actually it had been stolen but never picked up from the impound lot I worked at. Then I loaned to a buddy that left it overnite on the same street where it was orginally stolen. You can guess what happened next and it was never heard from again.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    Back in about 2003, I bought a ’91 Ford Escort GT for $150. Great little car: stick-shift, Mazda BP engine, it had been lowered using a ZX-2 Eibach kit, and was a dingy white. Newer tires, basically set up to be somebody’s BPT-swap that they never got around to. Oh, and no interior.

    Like, really no interior. Seats and a steering wheel, an on/off heater switch and half the dashboard.

    Best car ever: no need to lock it, no need to change the oil, it was a hatch so you could cram a metric tone of stuff where the back seats once were. Some duct tape over the holes above the gas tank fixed the alarming fuel smell, and a pair of earplugs in each door made driving on the highway bearable.

    Loved that thing. Sold it for 500 bucks.

  • avatar

    I bought a 1971 Camaro for $800. It might not qualify for your definition of “cheap” but it’s the cheapest car I’ve bought. Now if we start talking about how much this cheap car has cost me after the purchase we’re starting a much different conversation. Whoever had it before me should have his wrenches stripped from him.

  • avatar

    I college I drove a hand me down Mazda MX6. Very, very nice car, but it did not feel mine enough to tinker with it.

    So I stumbled upon a 1956 Ford Fairlaine half dissassembled in a friends store. I was registered to an unknown and was last formally owned by a friend oaf my friend’s father, but he had never registered.

    We re assembled it, added fluids and the thing started right up, after 9 years on the open. It had more holes than sheet metal, almost no interior, not even door handles.

    I called the owner, now living in the US (I live in southamerica) and he laughed at me for trying to buy the car from him. “Just take it… I thought I had gotten rid of it years ago”. I spent US$200 registering and paying old registration fees and drove it for several years as a toy car.

    I had several engine fires, several electrical fires, never did pass inspection, rebuilt the engine for around US$200 and finally sold it for around US$500 or so to a guy who owned a pristine body with no engine.

    The best of it was the independence. My father took away my MX6 a couple of times for some stupid fights and I always had this ugly contraption to drive….

  • avatar

    My parents managed to get a BRAND NEW 1998 Mazda MPV All-Sport, loaded to the brim FOR FREE. That right, FREE. I don’t mean free-but-you-pay-prize-taxes, or free-like-you get-it-free-then-register-and-pay-sales-tax. I mean FREE.

    They paid for it in full (price, taxes, tags) using a check from their HELOC, which they owed nothing on at the time. They noticed that for a few months, they hadn’t received any bills for the HELOC. My Dad made a number of calls to the bank and to the dealership, but neither had any record of the check being drawn. After about 6 months, my Dad simply stopped trying to pay for the car. No one ever came after him for it. It lasted my parents a good 160K miles or so before they sold it to my cousin with a growing family.

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    FREE 1990 Ford Fiesta from my future father in-law when my University ride finally died of terminal old age. It had a *minor* rust issue, and needed new front suspension swing arms (there were big holes in the originals), new brake lines all around and a piece of plywood wedged in the passenger front foot well (there was some steel there, but I got the feeling that it was the carpet holding it all together.
    I managed to get the thing roadworthy (that’s a very loose term) and drove it through my final year a university. On one short trip I managed to melt a hole through an intake valve (???) which to this day has completely baffled me as to how I managed to do it, so I took the head apart and swapped in a new valve. Driving in rain would lead to the front foot wells filling with water, so I drilled holes in the floor to let it drain out. And due to the dubious mechanical reliability of the vehicle, I kept a full set of tools in the boot at all times. This came in very handy when I was clamped on university grounds as I was able to disassemble the front suspension and remove the clamp. Said clamp ended up going for scrap, and so did the car a few months later.

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    When I was a grad student in Corvallis, Oregon, there was an apparently abandoned Plymouth sedan sitting beside a neighboring house. I ran the plate, found out the owner had a Colorado address. Called him, found out he was coming to Corvallis. He sold me the car for $50. It was a dark blue early ’49 4-door sedan. I put a dime-store battery in it and got it started without much difficulty. The clutch was stuck from sitting, so we towed it in high gear a short distance with my other car and got it free. I drove it a few times, then stuck an ad in the paper and sold it for $60 to a farmer who lived just out of town. When he started it to drive home the lights wouldn’t come on. “Aw, don’t worry about it,” he said, and drove off.

    Some years later (late 80’s, I think), I was given a 1958 Plymouth Belvedere 4-door sedan that had been parked for some months in Port Angeles. The owner and I bled the brakes, and I drove it back to Port Orchard without incident. It really was superfluous at the time – I had too many other vehicles – so I advertised it in the local WPC Club newsletter and sold it to another member for $150. He gave it to his father-in-law to drive; someone stole it, and it was never seen or heard from again. An oddity about that car – it was painted metallic turquoise, but the cowl under the hood was Toreador red, the same color as my 1958 convertible. Whoever had painted the car did all the door sills, inside the trunk etc., but not the cowl. Who would paint a red car metallic turquoise?

  • avatar

    Bought a Infiniti J30t for $500 from my cousin. Ran fine but had some damage from being hit with a baseball bat.

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    I bought a Fiat 850 for $10. A co-worker had removed the dash to replace with a real homemade wood one but never finished the “project”. His wife made him sell it after it sat in his yard for a couple years. It RAN ! I removed some more parts that I wanted and sold it to another co-worker (still running) for $25 and a case of beer.
    Later, I bought a ’75 LTD from another co-worker for $75. He had replaced about $800 of parts and was fed up. I picked it up at work, and had driven it all of 50 feet when I was broadsided by a very drunk woman hurriedly leaving the local hot pillow motel. She said she had to get home before her husband got home from work. Aside from the caved-in right side doors, my car was fine, so I told her to have a nice day, and drive carefully on her way home. After a couple of years, I traded the LTD to my mother-in-law for a color TV. Those were the days.

  • avatar

    The car that got me through my first year of college. It was an ’81 Volvo 265 wagon. Purchased for $750, it had fresh paint and an interior still in decent shape (this was 1994). Though very functional, it was a maintenance headache by any measure. The PRV engines were a nightmare (the engines had top-end oiling issues and liked to dine on their own camshafts). Additionally, I blew through two transmissions in 50k miles along with two blower motor failures in the same timespan.

    I took my bicycle with me just about everywhere (on a roof rack) as a backup source of transportation in case the car let me down.

    Still love Volvo’s, my wife’s current DD is a XC70 wagon.

  • avatar

    So many choices… Probably a 1973 Chrysler Newport two-door. It had been known as “Da Bomb” since well before my girlfriends’ parents gave it to me. This thing was longer than the Queen Mary II, and its 400 cubic inches required lead additive at each (very frequent) fill up. It was a great ride. I killed it accidentally by letting it idle too long with a radiator cover in place. Still feeling guilty about that boneheaded maneuver.

  • avatar

    Cheapest car I’ve owned was a $250 2000 Ford Contour. 8 years old and had sat for two years prior with a bad door handle, a blown timing belt, dead battery, and a broken power window motor. I got it at 80,000 and sold it a year later at 93,000 miles for 2 grand. Oh and a set of new tires. Worst road tripper I’ve owned. One of my friends started driving his dads truck after he passed away and just let the car sit, so he calls me up and said a cheap price, and I balked for a few months then he came down to a price I couldn’t turn down, for a car I didn’t need. But I bought it and drove it, though it never really endeared itself to me.

    2nd cheapest is my 77 Chevelle, I picked up with the proceeds of the Contour, a whopping $300 bucks for an all-original 4 door running on 5 out of 8 cylinders, a blow trans and a serious case of ugly to be cleaned off. Tuned it up, amazing what replacing the original dist cap and burned plug wires, along with a matching set of new plugs. swapped in a trans I had laying around, and its been a solid dependable ‘classic’ car.

  • avatar

    83 Toyota pickup, paid 200 bucks for it. It had been given to a guy I know by his grandfather, and he was having to much fun and went through a fence. I came along the next morning and bought it as they were loading it on the trailer, and they dropped it off and my house. Picked up another cab for free, 20 bucks for a set of fenders, and a new radiator and I was in business. Best 200 bucks i have ever spend, as it only has 170k and was well maintained, I plan on driving it for at least another 100k. The only question being, will I keep the 22r or go to a SBF?

  • avatar

    I’d bet a Hardee’s Thickburger I’ve got you all beat. In 1982 I bought a 1976 AMC Gremlin X for $100, from my father no less. Yes, this car was as awful as you could imagine. If you were foolish enough to open the driver’s door, it fell off. Also, the shifter linkage was falling apart and occasionally would fall through and drag on the ground. Near the end, you could see the road passing beneath your feet as rust mercilessly consumed this heap.

    However, it was perfectly suited for my purposes as a college beater that anyone in the dorm could use in exchange for beer. It had the straight six with engine compartment designed for a V8, God forbid. So there was PLENTY of room to work on the engine (good thing. It required plenty of work.)

    I sold it upon graduation for $200. I wish all my investments doubled in four years.

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    I paid $50 for a ’72 Cutlass back in 1983, then sold it for $400 a few days later. Picked up a ’74 Caprice for $125 a few weeks later. Being a high school punk at the time I beat the crap out of it for over a year with only replacing the starter and radiator. Lots of neutral drops and other foolish abuse yet it kept going.

  • avatar

    1990 mazda miata for $300. a little musty but only needed a battery and a new timing belt to run fine.

    I was knee deep in miatas at the time and I had another miata the same color so i didnt even register it, just swapped plates (in hindsight not such a good idea)

    It ended up making me money when my neighbor backed into the front fender. His insurance company wrote me a check for $1100 and a junkyard fender was only $100.

  • avatar

    I bought a 5 year old Vega with a blown head gasket back in 78 for 50 bucks. For the price of a gasket, it was back on the road. I lived in a rural development on a semi-circular dirt road about a half mile in diameter. I used to hoon the Vega (rwd oversteer, remember) like a dirt track stock car. Unfortunately after a short time, I lost control, and ran into a culvert pipe displacing the rust ridden right front suspension attaching points about a foot rearward.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Not mine, but I drove it- a neighbor/family friend drove her 2000 Chevy Metro into a pole in an ice storm. No airbags set off, just a smashed bumper cover, dented fender and the core support was pushed in an inch. Just so happens her insurance gave her enough to make a down payment on a Pontiac G6 coupe and my dad was looking for a beater for his 50 mile one-way commute. $100 + title charges and it was in our driveway. He put $200 worth of parts into it, so about $400 overall. It’s still running six years later, despite me learning to drive on it. Rockers are starting to rust though so it has a death sentence, unless we sell it when gas goes up next year.

  • avatar

    The free – 1995 Saturn SW1 and a 1988 Bronco II. Hand me downs fro my parents. Both were still on the road with 300k plus on them. The Saturn was stolen and stripped.

    The cheap – 1970 Olds Cutlass 300 bucks. Would have been awesome but I was in Naples Italy and it wouldn’t fit on many roads. Also had a string of sub 500 dollar 80’s Fiats during this time…none of them worth a damn.

  • avatar

    1st Car: 1975 VW beetle, $1500 and it needed some work but my Dad and I got it going again, eventually traded it for something a little more practical, a V6 Mustang.

    2nd: 1984 Mustang, tires were bald (despite 64,000 miles) and the emissions were stripped, so it never ran right and judging by the fading brakes, tires, black paint, and scuffs on every rear corner it must’ve been a low budget drifter, traded it for a Vdub when the brakes were bad and when it would always stall.

    3rd: VW Fastback automatic (again with low mileage), bad brakes, ran on 3 cylinders, bad suspension, one wheel didn’t hold air, engine was impossible to work on thanks to the small opening, bad starter (hot-wired it to drive it), leaked oil, fine piece of German engineering here. Sold it for $1000 and was done with VWs.

    4th: Plymouth Horizon, (brought for $800) great little car that got us around everywhere, sold it for $700 at the end of the year since the auto tranny was going bad, everything else was fine though.

  • avatar

    I bought a FIAT 124 Sport Spider for $560. It came with a $900 receipt for its new top and front seat upholstery. Fun car, but the front crossmember let go of a lower control arm and I let it go as a parts car for $200.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      These 124’s were notorious for rotting front cross-members, so bad Fiat even recalled them. One of many reasons why they left the U.S market in 83 though the Pinafarina Spyders and Bertone X19 via other dealers stayed around till the late 80’s.

  • avatar

    1965 Rambler American, collateral for a $25 loan from my father to a vacuum cleaner salesman. Brand new Kirby in the trunk; sold the vacuum for $50. My brother drove it for 3 years until he bought a Corvette for cash. I then drove it for a year until it died; the junkyard paid us $100 to take it away.

  • avatar

    1977 Dodge 1/2 ton cargo van, short wheelbase given to me in 1995 for a grand total of $0 by a co-worker for helping fix his daughters Hyundai Pony.
    It had a 318/360, ran well(except for the chonic stalling when cold)and the usual rust on the rocker panels which was badly repaired and painted.
    I think the idea was to convert it to a camper of some sort but apathy soon set in and I sold it.
    Trouble is I can’t remember how much I sold it for($200?)and to whom I sold it to, but I think he used it to deliver newspapers.
    Pretty sure it’s long gone.

  • avatar

    1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S coupe for $53 and a latte (the cost of helping my friend swap an engine into his other car). Came with a late model Japanese front bumper, aftermarket speakers and head unit and a few other little nice things. Traded it for a ’91 240SX. The corolla’s the only car I regret getting rid of.

    Picked up a ’91 Miata with a hardtop for $600 from a friend who was moving out of town. The crank pulley had a very severe wobble. Tossed in a new-to-the-car engine, sold it to a friend at break-even because I’m a nice guy.

    Had a $500 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon that turned out to need a lot more done than I was willing to put up. Would have made a great LeMons car, ended up selling at a slight loss to some guys who argued over $25.

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    66 Galaxie 500.$100. Painted Pumpkin Orange. With a Sponge.

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    My senior year of high school 1985. I noticed a large 4 door sedan in my neighborhood with a for sale sign. I knocked on the door and spoke with the old gentleman. He was selling it for a friend. It was a 1965 Mercury Montclair. It had a goofy, nearly vertical back window. Mercury referred to it as a Breezeway. White paint with a suprisingly good blue vinyl interior. What was interesting to me was that someone had done a 4 speed manual swap…so I thought. When I looked at the steering column it was pristine, with no sign of an column shifter. Closer inspection showed that it had factory 4 speed. There was a small chrome plate on the floor where the carpet met the shift boot. “Hurst” it said. The shifter looked to be at least 2 feet in length. Under the hood was a 390 2v that someone had thought would look better in orange paint.
    The price? $300.
    I bought it and ran it for all of 2 months before I blew the clutch. No tools + no repair skills = parked in my Mom’s driveway. Eventually it was sold for parts. Sad, as I think it may have been rare…

  • avatar

    Cheapest car I ever bought was an ’85 V6 Fiero for $650. Everything worked except the A/C, and I had a friendly mechanic do an R134a conversion for ~$150. It did need paint, though, which it never got. Of course, being a Fiero, I spent more than that in parts in the following years that I drove it. I later put tires on it that cost almost as much as I paid for the car, and had fun autocrossing it. I even won my class one time.

    Cheapest car I thought about buying, but didn’t: a $200 Datsun 280Z. It ran and drove fine, but had holes rusted all the way through the body in a couple of spots. It was still tempting for $200…

  • avatar

    Cheap as in “Free”?

    Several late 50s early 60s studebakers, went thru 10 one winter, most expensive $50, 4 or 5 were free, just drove them til they died.

    1960 Plymouth Fury given to me by a friend of my brother after I had my car wrecked in the late 70s.

    Best freebie? 1968 Dodge Charger parked behind a barn, got it for knocking on the door and offering to haul it off, put a battery and gas in it, ran fine, sold it to a friend for a ‘hobby stocker’ at the local dirt track.

    Best freebie not to me, but to my brother. Guy told him he had an “old car’ in his garage he could have for hauling it off (this is 1978) Turned out to be a 1970 (71?) Challenger Mr Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge. 440 6 Pak (missing engine and trans) but had the shaker hood, scoop and air cleaner, and a total of 1270 miles on it. Still had the part number tape on the exhaust. Got $1500 for it if I remember correctly. I wonder what that body would be worth today?

    Now as far as cheap as in “something of value had to change hands”

    1970 Pinto wagon, got it for an alternator for a 1974 Imperial. I had the alternator, they didn’t have $10 and $20 to have it put in, so they gave me the Pinto. It ran, no rear window, but I drove it for a couple months and sold it for $75 to a friend.

    Craziest?… At a party in 1971, drunken conversation with a stranger, telling me about his 1960 Rambler wagon his “old lady” said he had to get rid of. It was parked outside, ran, good tires, it’d been backed into a wall, bending the unibody, and since they’d lost the key to the tailgate, they’d broken the window to open the gate, did I mention it ran, and the radio worked? After some more conversation (again, alcohol was involved), we agreed to a price of $3. No, I don’t remember how we came to that price (I mentioned alcohol, right?). He had to take some of his stuff out, so I agreed to come get it the next day. I showed up, and he was looking as hungover as I felt, and told me “man, my old lady says I can’t sell the car for $3!” Figuring the deal was off, I asked him how much he wanted for it. He came back with “She said if I can’t get $5 for it, no sale!!!” So I gave him the extra $2 and drove it home. Used it for a year before I went in the navy, then gave it to my younger brother, and he got another year out of it (as I recall, it was a long time ago). I never did ask why his old lady wanted that extra $2.

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    I bought a ’73 VW Beetle for $75 in late 1991/early 1992. I was working an after school job and mentioned to a coworker that I was fixing up a Karmann Ghia. He said his family had this Beetle and there was something wrong with the transmission so they wanted it gone. Turns out it was an “Automatic Stickshift” and they didn’t know how to drive it. For those unfamiliar, the VW auto stick had a switch in the shift lever so as soon as you put any pressure on it the clutch would disengage. What they though was “slipping” was just them resting their hand on the lever. It was in decent shape, didn’t really need anything. I drove it to high school the day after I bought it and a little bit after that, then tinkered with it for six months or so. Ended up selling it for $250.

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    In college I went to test drive a 72 Cadillac Sedan Deville that was for sale for $300 on my way to a Christmas party at my parents house. During the test drive the exhaust fell off and the seller just buried his face in his hands “please just take this piece of shit away from me”. I offered him the $12 bottle of wine I’d bought for my parents in exchange for the car. A few minutes later he was signing over the title while I hammered the exhaust back together.

    At freeway speeds the near rust-destroyed rear quarter panels would flap back and forth, threatening to tear loose at any time and after a few months the fuel pump started leaking causing the mileage to tank from an already painful 8mpg. I still couldn’t help but love that car a little bit for how easily it came to me and how huge it was compared to my previous car – a Renault Alliance.

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    ’92 Volvo 745T, last autumn, $200. Ran well, but smoked a bit at first; I drove it home figuring I’d at least have a winter beater, maybe a parts car for my 244. Cleaned up the interior a bit, put on two good tires (it’d been sitting for a couple of years), changed… some of the fluids, and left the wastegate unhooked from the actuator until the ‘bad turbo’ completely failed after nine months of daily driving.

    So far it’s needed a rebuilt turbo, exhaust behind the cat, front calipers/rotors/pads, a few replacement accessory belts, and a junkyard nose (my fault), plus usual fluid changes and usual small things – plugs/wires, distributor cap/rotor, and so forth. It’s nice knowing that ugly as it may be, I saved it from the crusher, and it’s rewarded me in turn on countless occasions.

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    1973 fiat 124 sport coupe for $50 and some yardwork when I was 14. I had 2 years to perform the required new fluids, water pump, and a clutch before I had my drivers license. The 1592 cc engine ran great after my friend Marco’s dad got me the Euro spec weber to swap out the US spec one. With a 5 speed, all discs, and light weight it was a great first car. The cabin was very spacious and it didn’t look like the ugly square little fiat 124’s out there. The corrosion issues weren’t too bad. The driver’s manual came with a very detailed wiring diagram which I never needed. 10,000 trouble free miles until I was t-boned. I couldn’t find another one but got a deal on a Chevelle with a big block. Other than being able to cram more beer & friends in the Chevelle, I still missed the Fiat for its handling and brakes. The Chevelle was fun at stoplights but I could no longer keep up with my friends’ sciroccos and 320is on the back roads.

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    In 1970 I bought a 1951 Ford F-1 pick-up for $50 from the parents of family friends. Had a wore out motor due to it being a farm truck in the Palouse region of Idaho and no (stock or any other) oil filter. Got a new short block for the original flathead V8 for another $50. Changed motors in a day (from picking up the rented engine hoist to returning the hoist). A business friend of my dad repainted the stock color (a very pale green) for $100 a couple of years later.

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    1989 Lincoln Town Car. Free, first car.

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    MRF 95 T-Bird

    An 80 Toronado. Back in 1988 I bought it from someone in my neighborhood for a mere $500. It had the 5.7 Diesel Aka The engine that gave diesels in the US a bad rap. He was the original owner and recently had a new Mr. Goodwrench motor installed under warranty along with a rebuilt trans, so I figured how could I go wrong. It even had a nice aftermarket fuel filter/seperator. Charcoal grey, maroon velor int. It even had the steel sunroof. Every option except; leather, fiberoptic pkg and vinyl roof and for some odd reason no tilt wheel. Ran great and 28 MPG on road trips. Econocar MPG in a luxobarge. After several months I had to change the main controller for the glow plugs located in the intake. That solved the problem for a while till the batteries would get undercharged due to slipping belt. Glow plug changes too and another controller as well as usual maintenance. By 1990 and a little over 100K the engine started to make noises like it was ready for it’s end, a broken piston skirt. A local mechanic offered to install a Olds gas rocket V8 for $750 but I figured it was time for an upgrade and gave it to a local wrecking yard for $200. Off to GM diesel hereafter.

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    fintail jim

    In 2000 we moved to the house we presently live in. We moved to that neighborhood because we had friends who lived there and knew it to be a nice place. One of those friends had a well used 1979 Datsun pickup truck. He was the original owner but was not “obsessive” about the maintenance of his vehicles even though he was a decent wrench. He only fixed what absolutely needed fixing. Anyway, he was ready for a new truck after 20 years and about 200,000 miles. Said he wanted $400 for the old truck. I told him he could get at least three times that because the truck did run, etc. He held to his $400 price so I bought it from him (for no real good reason other than it was so cheap). Of course my wife was “delighted.” This wasn’t the first time I’d committed such a sin and wouldn’t be the last. Fate gave me an out though. Her young brother needed cheap transportation and needed it quick. I sold the truck to him the next day for $400. You didn’t think the missus was going to let me make a profit off her baby brother did you? The killing thing is he drove the truck to work for the next TEN years with MINIMAL repair and maintenance cost (he works only a short distance from his house) then was given a $3,500 trade in allowance on the damn thing thorough the cash for clunkers program year before last! BTW, he used the allowance for the down payment on a Civic hybrid – not really the vehicle I would have bought for a six mile round trip from home to work and back. Think Vespa.

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    ’73 Mercury Capri Bought $85. Used 6 months, senior year in high school. With 3 friends in car, it barely made it uphill. Sold $325.

    ’73 Dodge Polara. Got free, 92K. Needed timing chain. Drove all through college years from NYC to Buffalo. Never had another problem. Sold $225 with 150K, and engine purring.

    ’74 Dodge Dart. Bought $200 with 74K. Pristine from an estate sale. Kept 1 year. Sold $800 with 91K.

    ’95 Mercury Mystique. Bought in 1998 with 39K for $9900. Still have now in 2012 with 329K.

  • avatar

    I once bought an E21 320iS BMW for $100. The deal was, this college student needed to pay a long distance phone bill. One of the girls in his apartment complex had given him this car, which he didn’t need since he drove a Ford F100. I paid him, the girl and I went to the bank and took care of the title.

    It had all the paint blistered off the hood from an engine fire. It wore a “Massachusetts Yacht Club” sticker in the rear quarter window, and had the rust to prove it was a northern car.

    It also needed valves. And welding the seat tracks back to the floor. And welding the rear shock towers back together.

    The first weekend I had it, I took the head off and had the machine shop deck it and do the valves. I had a local body shop do the seat tracks. I drove it 800 miles north on a road trip, and had a shop do the rear shock towers when they punched through.

    I took it back south, and put it up for sale. Several customers objected to the factory Recaro seats, explaining to me that a BMW should be cushy and comfortable, not with “those” seats. Heathens.
    I ended up selling it to a man from Ohio who didn’t object to rusty cars, for 1300.

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