By on September 10, 2015


Monday morning. Auction time. I have 116 vehicles in front of me and a 21-year-old supercar that’s making me think back to the days when truck engines in car bodies were still all the rage.


This 1994 Dodge Viper is a bit different than most of those you don’t see on the road these days. For starters, it has just over 65,000 miles and in the auction world that makes it relatively affordable. The paint is perfect. The convertible top and plasticized side windows are immaculate, and the interior is…


Pure crap. Way too many scratches, scuffs, and scrapes for the type of audience that likes to keep a Viper for their miniature car museums under home lock and key. There is no claim to fame with this one either. It’s in the third year of the Viper’s run and unless Bob Lutz had taken this thing and flipped it, the interest in this Clinton Era Viper isn’t going to be high. I frankly thought it would do $20,000 retail on the low side at the very best.


I ended up bidding $18,000 on it, and it sold to someone else for $18,600 plus a $400 fee. No harm, no loss. However, there were six other older vehicles this week that will likely have plenty of opportunity to bite me in the ass during the times to come, but I managed to buy ’em right and in this business that makes all the difference.

In the car selling game, even if what you’re buying is more befitting of an automotive thrift shop than a high end boutique, you can still land a great return if you do your homework.


Take this 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with 128,000 miles, four-wheel drive, and a V-8. It came down the lane with a passenger side window that wouldn’t go up and also came late to the sale. I saw it being driven into the auction by a new car dealer out of Macon, Georgia who came about two hours away. Everyone was eating lunch at the time, so the dealers who were busy eating crappy tacos and going through their lists were oblivious to this one sneaking through at the last moment.

After checking it out mechanically and looking through the Carfax (I’m a sucker for a good Carfax history), I waited for it to come through the lane. The bid went down in a matter of seconds from $2,500 to only $350 since nobody was on the money.


When car dealers hear a car get money that low and haven’t looked it over already, they automatically assume that something major is wrong with it. That helped me shake off everyone except one guy who wouldn’t leave it alone.

I ended up holding my bid for a couple of seconds before raising it in an inconsistent matter.

Sometimes a quick $50 bid. Sometimes a slow hundred dollar pump that took the auctioneer a couple of seconds to get out of me. An inconsistent bidding tempo and amounts make a lot of inexperienced buyers nervous because they start doubting themselves.


I ended up buying the Jeep for $950. Throw in a $100 auction fee, $50 transport, and $125 for the window, and I’m now just over $1,200 on a vehicle I can probably retail for $3,500 — that is if I don’t get surprised by something major problem down the line. 

The other low-end vehicle I bought that day was a 2004 Mazda MPV Sport that would regularly be pure poison on a retail lot except for one thing. The color.


A bright clean silver minivan attracts eyes about as good as any other van color in the market. Unlike the forest greens of the late ’80s and the gold of the ’90s, silver is still one of the prime colors that has holding power. Plus there were two surprises on the inside.


The first was a DVD player. Young families love these things to the point where they will often buy a lower-spec or unpopular minivan if it has this feature. I never understood why today’s consumers simply don’t pony up $80 and buy a portable one instead, but I’m not one to complain about it.

Besides the fact that Mazda sells vans about as well as Honda can sell hybrids, there was one other issue that makes a lot of buyers automatically cross it off their list.

A check engine light with an older minivan makes most dealers think of two words: automatic transmission. The ones on the MPV and the Villager/Quest are actually fairly durable units. I figured I had a shot and it turns out I did. I bought it for $1,300 and once I replaced the coil and paid the sale fee, I had about $1,500 in it.

There were four other neat surprises this week.


One was this 2008 Dodge Caliber with only 69k miles. It had major paint issues on the roof and rear tailgate like a lot of Calibers that spend time in the sun. Strangely enough, it was also a one owner vehicle that had been maintained by a new car dealership since day one. In my business, a one-owner, dealer-maintained vehicle that is popular can carry a stiff price premium. In the case of less popular vehicles like the Caliber, it means that I can finance the hell out of it.

The auctioneer who used to work with me when I was on that side of the world started the bid at $2,000.

I held it. A fist held towards my body means, “Hold that bid right there!” and the few other eyeballs showing interest were waiting for the bid to come down.

It never happened. The Caliber sold for $2,000. After a $250 paint touchup and the removal of a few roof and body dings, I’ll have about $2,500 in it.


This older 2004 PT Cruiser Platinum Edition was the same story. Hold the opening offer at $2,000 with a fist and wait for their your fellow dealers to get greedy and sit on their heels in anticipation of a lower price. Both these cars were owned by a bank, and most banks don’t even bother having one of their representatives come to the auction. If you happen to buy what is older inventory for them (a vehicle they have held for a long time, usually due to a bankruptcy issue), they usually just cut it loose for the highest price.


There were a lot of near misses that day. A 2012 Fiat 500 Pop that had 42k and 1 accident that I bid up to $6,800 went for $7,200. A low-mileage 2012 Suzuki Kizashi that I bid to $6,000 sold for $6,500. By the way, a last year Suzuki actually made by Suzuki is a fantastic bargain on the used car market thanks to their 7 year/100,000 mile warranty. Everyone considering a new or used Hyundai should buy one of these instead.

Finally, there was plenty of crack pipe out there. I saw an 11-year-old Grand Caravan with barely over 120k and no leather sell for $5,000 along with two rental-car-level Tauruses that sold at the $3,000 mark — one an ’03 and the other an ’04. At those prices, I could buy three from the City of Atlanta.


The low-end of the market was rounded off with a 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix with 140k that I bought for $1,600 (plus $220 auction fee), and a 2008 Audi A4 with 165k that I bought for $2,900 (same fee). That one required a sunroof repair, a tensioner pulley, and an accessory belt, so I now have $3,500 in it. Here’s a pic of the Audi A4 since I’m sure none of you want to look at a defunct Pontiac that looks like Bucky the Beaver. If you want to see the photographical damage of all my latest purchases, feel free to click on the gallery below.

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71 Comments on “Hammer Time: Can A 1994 Dodge Viper Bite You In The Ass?...”

  • avatar

    I see no reason buying these old sports cars. The new cars perform so much better and have better safety features.

    For that same $18,000 you could have had a 2006 Charger SRT. It’s cheaper to repair/upgrade them and they are far superior vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      “I see no reason buying these old sports cars.”

      Not surprising; you don’t know much about anything.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re bad at cars.

    • 0 avatar

      But it isn’t as fun on the track, nor as quick on the track.

    • 0 avatar

      I sold my 2007 A3 for $9500 about a year ago. It only had 100,000 miles but that also means the $1200 (dealer) timing belt change was due soon. Either everyone is afraid of Audi’s and you got a good deal on that A4, or there is something wrong with it. Wish you luck with it.

      • 0 avatar

        T-belt on Audis costs $1200 even at an independent, I must say.

        • 0 avatar

          For $800-$900, my indie garage has in the past replaced A4 1.8T belts, the water pump (a good one w/ a metal impeller) and the belt tensioner bits and pieces. They do a lot of them, maybe they are just more efficient at it than the norm. As this usually service after the warranty is up, I avoid the dealer.

          • 0 avatar

            That’s also about how much it costs to do a proper timing belt service on something like a Honda Accord V6. A good tech can pull off an A4 timing belt change without putting the car in full service position (unbolting the front of the car and swinging it out of the way) which saves a couple hours of labor.

          • 0 avatar

            That’s also about how much it costs to do a proper timing belt service on something like a Honda Accord V6. A proficient tech can perform the A4 timing belt change without using the full service position as well. At the right price, something like that A4 could move pretty easily.

    • 0 avatar

      So according to you, I should not buy a Porsche 993, a Ferrari 308 or an original Honda/Acura NSX, because newer cars are faster and cheaper to maintain. There seem to be car collectors that disagree with you and have deep pockets (and deep garages) to prove it.

      Perhaps this $18,000 Viper is not the right example to prove my point, but a pristine $40k+ Viper with its original steering wheel will do it. The current trading prices of the above cars will also do it. Hint: Mint 308s are approaching $100k.

    • 0 avatar

      “I see no reason buying these old sports cars.”

      Pretty much sums up BTSR on TTAC in a nutshell. Nobody should buy old cars, new cars are safer, HAVE YOU SEEN MY $70,000 8000 HP MOPAR THAT MAKES SO MUCH NOISE!

      You buy this 20 year old Viper for the same reason you would buy a 70’s Porsche, or an old MG, or a 2nd gen Vette, or a pre-war cabriolet, or a M1911, or an old Strat, or a 100-year old house – because you enjoy the experience of something that isn’t ‘New.’

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t you used to restore German Mercury Capris?

  • avatar

    Oh, come on. I like the Mopar twins as much as anyone, but they are not the universal answer to the “what else to buy?” question.

    Viper != Charger no matter how you slice it.

    • 0 avatar

      What you probably meant was Viper >> Charger.

      A custom race-car-style tube frame, and a one-off engine versus……

      A large mass-produced car with a hot engine dropped in.

      Don’t get me wrong, I could totally rock a Challenger R/T for a daily driver and it’s pretty cool for a mainstream car. But which one was on people’s posters and computer screens?

  • avatar

    “By the way, a last year Suzuki actually made by Suzuki is a fantastic bargain on the used car market thanks to their 7 year/100,000 mile warranty.”

    Authorized Suzuki Auto service centers are slightly rare and don’t have many in-stock parts. On the other hand, nearly any population center will have a fully stocked Hyundai/Kia dealer.

  • avatar

    Good article, Steven. Not sure why, but I find this stuff interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I’m a sucker for all of SL’s articles. He could write about watching paint dry and I’d be all in.
      I must have been a BHPH salesman in a previous life.

      • 0 avatar

        Or maybe just in The Auto Trade .

        I’ never worked BH PH but I did sell used cars for decades and enjoyed it very much .

        I too find Mr. Lang’s articles very fact filled and informative as well as well written and interesting to read .


  • avatar

    Do people want to buy old crap V8 GC’s from you? Legitimately asking, given the number of them I see for sale online around here – all the time. They’ve usually got trim issues, and if you’re lucky avoid transmission or engine or electrical woes. All while sucking at 14mpg, no matter what.

    And that A4 is ratty too. The interior condition puts me off.

    Every time I see a PT, I’m always shocked they made it for so long, and sold so many. I’d hate my life if I had to look at that interior every day.

    • 0 avatar

      Count me among those that view the PT Cruiser’s sales success as a curiosity. I know people have different tastes and in this case mine aren’t in the same state.

      More intriguing is the affixing of ADM stickers that customers actually paid.

      • 0 avatar

        My ex-boss’s wife bought a PT when they were all the rage. she was upside in it within 2 months and really hated the car after 3 months. Man was she screwed.

        This is the reason I never have and never will buy a car with ADM stuck on it. I don’t have to be the first one on the block with a new toy. Patience grasshopper…

    • 0 avatar

      that gen A4 also tends to have oil burning issues.

    • 0 avatar

      Lots of people want to drive a Benz, BMW, or Audi. For certain buyers a clean exterior is all that matters; interior and drive train can be shot to hell as long as you can still tell your friends and Tinder swipes that you drive an Audi.

      Having the right auto for your peer group gets you status and laid. Steve will have no trouble selling that A4.

    • 0 avatar

      “And that A4 is ratty too. The interior condition puts me off.”

      If you find the interior of the Audi revolting, click “Next” a few more times and check out the Caliber’s. I’d rather be behind the wheel of the Audi, even with its Pep Boys grade cover, than the Caliber, whose unadorned till, even in fine condition, looks like something that belongs on a Cub Cadet.

      • 0 avatar

        On the A4, I more meant that I’d be hesitant to purchase an A4 at that mileage where the interior looked that way. Someone driving it for a while has clearly not given a sh-t about it.

  • avatar

    hey steve how about an update on the vw w8 sedan you bought awhile ago? how did that turn out? get bitten or make a few?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I made a few hundred. The only thing that saved my vital organs from being donated on that one was a good friend of mine who works on VWs on his off time. That and a TTAC reader found a $600+ part I needed for only $50.

      I did keep it for a year. Fun car. I’ll never do it again.

  • avatar

    I know that someone, somewhere, is gonna plunk good money down for that POS 2008 Dodge Caliber base model. At least you don’t have passenger window malfunction problems on those manual winders.

  • avatar

    Steven, the $3,500 you figure you’ll get for the Jeep GC is for the negotiating cash buyer, right? What price is the financed customer getting, and what are the terms?

  • avatar


    We prefer the overhead dvd player for many reasons.

    It is always in the car,
    everybody can see it,
    there is no fighting over who has to hold it,
    none of mine have broken.


  • avatar

    The Viper just needs to be sold to a nationwide audience, rather than a local one. Autotrader,, etc.

    Maybe not applicable at this price point, but sourcing an original steering wheel would add to the car’s value.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    “The first was a DVD player. Young families love these things to the point where they will often buy a lower-spec or unpopular minivan if it has this feature. I never understood why today’s consumers simply don’t pony up $80 and buy a portable one instead, but I’m not one to complain about it.”

    Because a 2-3-4y/o will be holding the DVD player, mashing the buttons, dropping it, throwing it, hitting it on the window, and all around trying their best to destroy it, versus the one that’s stuck to the roof out of their grasp.

    Also, that Viper is awesome. Want so badly. And LOL at thinking a 10y/o Charger is any kind of comparison at all. Awesome two-seat roadster with pr0n star styling, or darling amongst the BHPH/dubs/ghetto-glider set?

    • 0 avatar

      You can buy something that holds a tablet to the headrest posts or the back of the headrest. I don’t know of these portable DVD players that Steve speaks of. Can you download movies from the internet on to them?

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Those can be kicked. Hard. And then they fall off.

        Disclaimer: my kid either watches an iPhone or iPad (hooked to a mifi) on long car rides. But we tried the “hold the DVD player” and the “Strap the DVD player to the headrest” approaches and both lasted less than a day.

        My biggest problem is how to get the zillion movies I have on BD/DVD onto my iPad so my kid can watch them. What a PITA that is.

        • 0 avatar

          We have three movies on Blu-Ray or DVD because they were in the basement when last August’s flood of the Detroit area occurred. The three DVDs I now own are Frozen, Tangled, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

          Our iPad conveniently fits in between the two front seats on our MkT. My daughter has not kicked it yet. She wouldn’t dare kick Winnie the Pooh. We actually try not to put it on at all. The MagnaDoodle is the go to.

    • 0 avatar

      “pr0n star styling”

      I could not have phrased it more succinctly. A Viper at under $20k is a steal if the mechanicals are good and the paint is salvageable.

  • avatar

    I bought an identical silver 2004 MPV new, well under 18k out the door on a $25k sticker. So no, Mazda couldn’t sell these things to save their life.

    I still miss it. The CX-9 that replaced it is worse at everything except driving in the snow.

  • avatar

    The Mazda MPV you bought looks a lot like the one I used to own when we were in Okinawa. Of course, mine was a JDM model and I had to dump it (actually I sold it to a close friend) before coming back to the states, but I still miss it. It was a great little van and now that I am back in Japan I am shocked at how many of these things are still on the road here.

    When I tried to buy one in Buffalo 5 years ago the few I found looked like they were made of Swiss cheese. I’m sure the clean one you found will make a good car for some young family.

  • avatar

    Is the color of that first photo altered, or is the colorscape of modern automobiles actually that boring? It genuinely looks like someone just photoshopped the viper red on a black and white picture.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    That’s the color. 1990s red.

  • avatar

    This is the most depressing lineup you’ve ever provided here.

    When you drive to work and see these misfits that you tasked yourself with disposal, do you just turn around and go home? It literally looks like the junkyard here, and I suppose that’s how you at least got them for near nothing.

    Other than the A4 that some sucker will punish himself with and hold you (the dastardly used car salesman) accountable for forever, I’m looking forward to you following up on the desperate souls willing to sign up for these.

  • avatar

    Back in the day when it first came out over 20 years ago, the local Chrysler dealer had a Viper in the showroom. The interior was awful brand new and not really suitable for the price. No wonder it scratched and scuffed easily.

    In fact Chrysler seems to have invented the cheap gray plastic interior appointments now reposing in various new Nissans of the Versa variety.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, look at the interior of a Nissan Skyline of the 80s and 90s. Parts fit better, but everything was still some variation of textured gray plastic.

      For a bargain supercar in the early 90s (if I recall correctly, the Viper’s price started in the mid-high 60s), I’m not too surprised at the level of artisanship in the Viper’s interior. Also, the introduction of the 1996 GTS Coupe led to a better interior in the roadster as well.

      If you wanted the supercar performance and the sumptuous interior, you had to go $100k+. Even then, the $110k Porsche 993 Turbo wasn’t exactly luxurious. Supremely well-built, but more functional than anything else.

  • avatar

    I love these articles. And everything kind of makes sense as Steve lays it out except for that 500 Pop pricing. How can you re-sell that POS with profit from that price? You certainly should not be keeping it for lease. Saw one recently with black plastic roof surfacing peeling off right in front of the sunroof. My friend’s Abarth on a lease went from messed up wheel bearings to possibly needing a new tranny. Glad they outpriced you on it.

  • avatar

    What is wrong with kids just looking out the window and using their imagination when on a car trip? Nice parenting. Probably have a nice case of ADD if they can’t go six hours without the dreaded TV. Read a book you little bastard!

  • avatar

    Crank windows on that Caliber, someone here will pay a premium for that.

  • avatar

    My dad just traded in his 01 Taurus SES (Vulcan) in excellent condition for a Mazda5. He bargained the dealer to pay $2500 for the trade in because the dealer refuse to lower the price, I guess he got a great deal on that.

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