Hammer Time : Pick Your Stick!

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
We’re committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using links in our articles. Learn more here
hammer time pick your stick

5 cars – 5 sticks = 0 Customer Demand

I hate looking at that equation. But these days, it’s about as true for the car business as Georgia is hot. An older stickshift vehicle that isn’t an all out sports car will sit at a retail lot for months on end.

Nobody knows how to drive them except for those folks who are either too middle-aged, too arthritic, or too affluent to buy an older car with a manual transmission.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s five vehicles that have become the equivalent of heavyweight paperweights at my humble abode. The funny thing is I like driving them all… I just wish I wasn’t two stickshifts away from driving a different handshaker every day of the week.

They are….

2007 Toyota Corolla CE – Wholesale 4k, Retail 5k

I gave this Corolla brand new tires, an interior detail, and a new antenna. It has returned the favor with 29 dealer records and… well… have I mentioned the fuel economy yet?

When you buy the premium vehicles in this business, you always get three options; good, fast, and cheap.

You can pick any two of the three.

A car with good demand will sell fast, but you can’t buy it cheap.

A cheap car can sell fast, but you don’t always get a chance to buy them in good condition and chances are if it is, it’s not a popular car.

This Corolla has officially served as my decoy car. The one that everyone thinks they want to buy until they find something with more options (it’s a base CE), more miles (145k), or, inevitably, an automatic.

I don’t care. With all the in-town driving I do, and with the honor of having 4 police precints within a 5 mile radius of my workplace, I need a car that will keep me out of trouble while having at least some fun until the points on my license go down. This one does the job and yes, I would have rather sold it by now.

2002 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Wholesale $2500, Retail $3500

Right engine. Right leather seats.

The wrong transmission for everyone’s teenage daughter.

I flipped a 2002 Jetta not too long ago. Ergonomically, the Jetta was about three parsecs ahead of this Beetle. The dashboard on this thing seems to go on forever, or at least three feet of forever. The interior is as cheap as it is kitschy and, well, parts of that interior are the same lime green as the outside.

I should have known better then to buy a lime green Bug. But about a year ago I struck gold with a zonker yellow Beetle. So I thought that a green one could be an acceptable weird color alternative. It’s not!

Everything works (miracle!), but this one just sits and ponder that decades old VW question, “To break? Or not to break?”

1999 Toyota Solara – Wholesale $2250, Retail $3000

Now this one hit all of my buttons for my highway travels. Plenty of space. Comfortable for long trips. A V6 / 5-speed combination that effortlessly cruises down the interstate at an 80 mph clip while barely breaking a sweat. It only has one itty-bitty problem. After I took it down to Florida to see family, and up to Detroit to see the auto show, someone hit it. Figures!

The good news was that this beige on beige Solara wasn’t badly hurt at all. A tow square from an SUV pierced the plasticized bumper at a red light. The driver had almost blown through the red in front of a cop, and then decided to back up without looking. An act of stupidity that was hopelessly compounded by the cell phone attached to his head.

It actually worked out to my benefit. The old bumper had already been scuffed up hard thanks to the errant parking escapades of the prior owner. 1990’s coupes always wind up with those scuff marks on the bumper because the paint was put on wafer thin back then and never held up.

It’s also an SE model, which in 1990’s Toyota-speak means that it has a cassette player only… no roof… and plastic wheel covers. SE really meant “Subtraction Edition” back in the day.

1997 Honda Civic EX – Wholesale $2000, Retail $3000 130k.

One owner. Sunroof. These Civics were incredibly popular up to a few years ago.

These days they still are here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, but only the automatic versions. This particular one has the usual cosmetic issues. Some paint wear on the hood, flaking, and a crack on the front bumper.

It’s also owned by my brother-in-law. So if I tell you any more negatives, I’ll quickly find myself outside the “Circle Of Trust”. It’s a good car. Really! Oh, and the battery’s dead.

1994 Mazda Protege – 60k original miles – bought for $775 two years ago.

This is a bad, bad car. A terrible car. It’s like an ancient venereal disease. A horrific ride of almost Roger Smith-ian proportions.

But I absolutely love it. Why? Because it was the cockroach of compacts.

I had financed it and got it back. Twice. After it came back to me in an almost Kevorkian state, I fixed it up again and retailed it. I only had a thousand in it and got over $4500 after two years of tough owners. So naturally, I love this one the most.

But what about you? If you were to handshake your way into the penurious plenitude of older stickshift vehicles, which one would you chose?

Note: The Beetle and Protege sold earlier this week, and I have to confess that my only exposure for these vehicles has been drive-by traffic until recently. I wanted to finance them (well, all but the Protege), but thankfully, I am buying a lot more late model vehicles these days instead of older stuff. If this keeps up I’ll probably continue to chronicle these older rides, but I will be back to my old focus of retailing newer ones.)

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

More by Steven Lang

Join the conversation
2 of 134 comments
  • PandaBear PandaBear on May 05, 2014

    "I had financed it and got it back. Twice. After it came back to me in an almost Kevorkian state, I fixed it up again and retailed it. I only had a thousand in it and got over $4500 after two years of tough owners." What in the world.... How did the math work out? Is it because it is cheap to fix or is it because it is cheap to buy? Does it work with other cars if you have the right customers too?

  • Beelzebubba Beelzebubba on May 06, 2014

    As a consumer who has always preferred a manual transmission, I got an amazing deal on the best car I ever owned. It was a 1995 Acura Legend that had been returned at the end of a 36-month lease in July 1998. A friend who drove by the Acura dealership on his way to work every day saw it and mentioned it to me in January 1999. He knew that I had previously owned a 1990 Legend Sedan (also a 5-speed manual) and said he was amazed that this one had been sitting unsold for months. We both figured something must be wrong with it, but when I pulled it up on the dealer’s website and saw that it had a manual, I knew exactly why it was glued to that lot! It also had a second, slightly less fatal, flaw that make it virtually unsellable- CLOTH interior! I test drove the following day and fell in love. It had 32k miles on it but the white exterior and taupe interior were literally in “new” condition. They had it priced at $23,900 which was about $4500 less than the identical car with an automatic transmission. I offered $20k to take it off their hands and they refused to go below $23k I thanked them kindly, left my name and number and told them if they changed their mind anytime in the future and would accept my offer that I would welcome their call. If I was still in the market when they called, I’d be happy to take it off their hands. They called the following week and went as low as $22k. I reiterated my $20k offer and, once again, told them to let me know if they decided to accept at some point. But I also told them not to waste either of our time trying to get me to pay a penny more. Almost four months later, in mid-May 1999, the Used Car Manager called me and asked me if I was still interested in buying it for $20k. I told yes and he agreed. I went to my bank the next day and signed the loan docs and picked up the check for $21,266 ($20k plus 6% GA Sales Tax and $66 in Tag/Title Fees). That car was the LOVE of my life until November 2005 when a dump truck pushed me into the retaining wall on I-75N just outside of Atlanta. I smacked the wall hard with the front left corner which popped the airbags. Then the entire left side of the car made contact with the wall and I went another 300-400 feet before finally coming to a stop. To say that the car was mangled would be like saying the Titanic had a door ding from that silly iceberg! But I was relatively unscathed other than minor airbag burns and bruising from the seatbelt. I still consider the 2nd generation Legend one of the best vehicles ever built. I still miss it…

  • Redapple2 No interest in HK products. Lexus/Toyota/Subaru/Honda are superior across most metrics. And have better resale.
  • Redapple2 Note to self. Seft, buy them already sorted.
  • ChristianWimmer A city which makes life for motorists hell is not worth living in. Here in eco-communist Europe the lefties are constantly talking about “improving our quality of life” - by getting rid of cars and making cities car-free. Sorry, but I despise public transportation and the weirdos you meet on it and prefer to take my car or my bicycle around the city. In the winter I only take my car.
  • Jwee What is wrong with taxing people twice? Gov't cost money, and it is the fairness of the taxation that matters most not the frequency of the toll booth. Personally, I rather they tax me less and the wealthy/corporations more, but someone has to pay. We used to tax the wealthy, but they have successfully lobbied so now we the people, pay interest to the wealthy on their low-taxed earnings, so that we can fund the government.
  • MaintenanceCosts So there is no Sonata trim without some type of Theta engine.It seems like they've been doing a bit better when attached to a hybrid system, so that's probably the one to get, but they're going to have to go several years without further engine troubles before I'd trust a H/K ICE product again.