New or Used? : Seeking A California Vintage

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
new or used seeking a california vintage

Me? Boring???

To Steve:

My name is Alex and I currently own a 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser 100 series.

It is my 3rd one (99, 2001 and this 03) as well as a 93 (80 series). I am a diehard Land Cruiser and Land Rover fanatic. I also have had my fair share of Range Rovers, which I have finally learned to appreciate from a distance as I cannot afford to continue to repair them on a weekly basis.

My 03 Land Cruiser has 158k miles, which is nothing for these cars and looks showroom new for the most part. I also refuse to give the truck up. Period. However with gas being where it is and trying to preserve the Land Cruiser as long as I can, I’m thinking about adding a vehicle to the stable for a daily commuter.

My only requirements are it being reliable, somewhat fuel efficient (well, anything better than the Land Crusher) and fun to drive. I’d rather go with a more vintage car that may be slightly more expensive to repair as it will be different and way more fun to drive than a boring econobox.

I like the Starion/Conquest, but there might be some reliability concerns, or maybe a 3 series (E36). I want to keep this under $5,000 and have factored that in with higher repair costs. I know I definitely do not want a Mustang or Camaro or generic. I’d like something that sticks out. Rust issues are of no concern in Southern California, so no worries on that. If you have any other odd ball suggestions, please help me out.

Steve says:

My first instinct when anyone mentions a cheap little vintage runabout as a daily driver is, “Do you fix your own cars?”

Let’s say you have limited knowledge. You know your fluids. Can perform your own oil changes, and can catch the small issues before they become big. If that sounds like you, I would look more towards a 1990’s vehicle that was widely produced instead of a 1980’s vintage that had a limited run. When the difficult issue comes to the fore you want it to be easy to fix.

Since you already have the ‘big’ vehicle, I would look more towards the compact side of the world… the ‘affordable’ compact side that doesn’t involve complex electronics or multiple trips to European specialty shops. There are a lot of good compacts from the Clinton era, and chances are that the vehicle’s condition will be a far better indicator of your happiness than the type of model.

Assuming that all things are equal in the condition world, my number one pick would be an NA Miata. They are by far the best bang for the buck vehicles of that era if you’re looking for something that is sporty, vintage (but mechanically robust), and reasonable to keep. A lot of older folks also tend to hang on to these vehicles as Sunday drivers, and although they may ask for a premium, the quality of the product and the prior owner is often worth that investment.

What else would work? It all depends on the owner. As I go through the usual list of suspects… 300Z, RX-7, 3-Series, Eclipse/Talon, Integra, BMW E36 models, all I see for you is a near 20 year time period where anything can happen. A lot of kids rag these vehicles out and even older owners start skimping on the maintenance when they get bored of driving them.

Keeping all things relative, it’s best to buy an older vehicle that is garage kept and doesn’t come out of the homely cave twelve months of the year. So my vote is for a Miata. Shaken not stirred. Good luck!

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  • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 01, 2012

    I can speak from experience on this as I currently own an 80 series Cruiser (1993), a Miata, and a bike. First thing I'd do is dump that Hundy and get back into an 80. But it sounds like you've succomb to the charms of that V8 and road friendly suspension, so thats probably not gonna happen. I vote for the Miata and here is why. The Land cruiser will last forever but it is like a piece of industrial equipment...It must be maintained fairly strictly to do so. As a Cruiserhead you probably get this. You owned an 80 so you know about all the little things that if you skip will become big expensive things (Birfields, etc). The 100 series is supposedly better in some of these respects but I am under the impression that they are still fairly maintainence intensive beasts. These trucks are not built like your average vehicle that is designed around a 300k mile life cycle. They are built to last indefinitely, with proper and vigilant maintainence. Which we have established, isn't cheap. So you are either a fairly decent mechanic or are well heeled enough to pay a cruiser shop to keep your rig going. As such, the Miata is the perfect complement in that it is very cheap to maintain. Mine is a 90 with power nothing. They are overbuilt machines. I have 180k on my 90 and no issues aside from a slight water pump leak which, incidentally with the timing belt is about the most you'll ever have to do to these things. The very early 90 models had a crankshaft issue that is largely overblown and really only an issue if you don't follow the procedures doing the timing belt. Mine is of the infamous "short nose crank design" and I've had no issues. The stock 14 inch tires are cheap and upgrading to 15's will still probably be cheaper for a set than 2 tires for your cruiser. I also owned a second gen MazdaSpeed MX5 and if headroom is a concern, go for the first gen. The cockpit is more spacious. They are slow by today's standards but as a cruiserhead, you probably are friendly with the right lane anyhow. Watch out for Rust on the rockers on the first gen Miata...thats really there only known issue. If you are going to keep your cruiser and any 5000 dollar car on the road, the Miata is a great candidate. Also, the internet support will rival the extensive support the Land Cruiser has. If it has to be odd, I plan to paint my Miata Baruth Green one of these days.

  • Gessvt Gessvt on Jul 02, 2012

    Saw a flawless 1985 Celica GT-S on a bike ride this weekend, complete with collector plates and a 5-speed. Handsome car that is rare to see in unmolested or neglected condition. That, or a similar vintage Supra, would be a neat bookend to your Land Crusher.

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