Ask Bark: What Should I Drive While My Vette Gently Sleeps?

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Jerrid writes:

I’m getting ready to move to the Kansas City to attend a professional school for a year. I’ve currently divested myself of all cars with the exception of my now daily driven toy which is a modified C6 Z06. This will be fine until about, oh say, November or December when the snow starts coming down and the roads get salted. So I’ve devised two potential schemes to address this.

First option: I find a reasonably fun winter car less than 15 years old for under $6,000 that can navigate snow and has some potential to moonlight as a respectable AutoX car (my C6Z06 would do track events/HPDEs). So far I’ve only really found a few Pontiac G5 GTs and non-SC Cobalt SS models that fit this description; basically, GM Delta platform stuff. I know there has to be other reliable FWD compacts out there that would fit my scheme. I also know you’ve done a lot of AutoX time in your day, so I was hoping you had some additional insight on some winter warrior/parking lot marauder cars I might also consider. After I finish up my school program, I’d sell the car to recoup as much of my investment as possible, and move on to my next destination.

Second Option: I could just rent an economy car for about three months or so during the winter. A quick estimate from Enterprise puts me in for about $3,000 if I rent an economy car for the winter. I probably wouldn’t get anything worth taking to an AutoX event, but I wouldn’t have to worry about maintenance, insurance, or resale either.

What says you, Mr. Maruth?

What says me? Other than “ Eat your spinach?

First thing I’ll say — idea number two is wretched, for many, many reasons. You don’t have to worry about resale on a car that costs less than $6,000. If you buy a $6k car, chances are that car won’t be worth a whole lot less than $6k if you wanted to sell it at the end of the winter, and cars that are $6k or less typically don’t last long on classified sites. You’ll be able to sell whatever you get for right around what you paid for it, and it won’t take long at all.

Liability-only insurance on a $6k car won’t cost you very much — probably $40-50 a month or less, depending on your age and driving record. So, don’t let something like that concern you, either.

Renting a car from an Enterprise would literally be throwing your money down a deep well. If you want to waste $3k, I can think of many more fun ways to do it — I’m thinking Vegas.

So, now that we’ve dispatched that silly idea, let’s look at your first idea. It’s a good one, all things considered. However, the first thing I’d recommend is forgetting about autocrossing your $6k car and buying a set of Hoosiers for your Z06. You’ll be so much happier in the long run. Autocrossing a slowish car can be an exercise in patience, and with the new tire rules in Street classes, they’re even slower than they used to be. After some HPDE time in your Zed, you’ll probably find autocrossing an FWD econobox downright sleepy.

But, let’s say you ignore that advice. What could you buy for $6k or less that would make a good winter ride as well as a sporty summer AXer? I have some thoughts (and you can go here for my thoughts on autocrossing, in general).

You mentioned the Cobalt SS, and that’s a good choice — for the autocrossing part. However, I’m not sold on the build quality of those vehicles. I think you’d find yourself dreading driving it in the wintertime. While it’s as fast as most E46 Bimmers on the AX circuits, it certainly doesn’t resemble one when it comes to everyday driving. The interior sucks harder than you can possibly imagine. You could also investigate a Saturn Ion Redline, too — they might be harder to find, but they could also be cheaper due to the orphan brand.

Of course, the Scion tC is always an option here, as well. It’s going to be underpowered in comparison to the Cobalt, but you’d like driving it everyday a lot better. The OEM tires on the tC are straight up awful in the snow ( ask me how I know) but there are plenty of all-season tires that are an option for you in that size. I have autocrossed a tC a couple of times — not the most enjoyable experience. They’re prone to understeer (I used the e-brake to rotate most of the time) and they chew up tires. So, maybe not.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a nice fifth-generation Prelude. These things have held their value extremely well, and they’re right at the edge of your fifteen year window, so you might not be entirely comfortable spending your $6k on a car that old. The example in that link looks great, though. Man. I kinda wanna go buy it myself.

However, I think my ultimate recommendation is going to be a Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS. Of all the cars we’ve mentioned, it’s going to be the best in the snow, thanks to the standard Subie all-wheel drive. It can also be a surprisingly competitive autocross car, largely due to that same AWD system. I’ve seen talented drivers win regional class championships in them, and even be competitive at national tours and pro solos. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got the entire service history on any example that you look at, and the head gasket issue is a real thing.

Nicer examples will be every bit of that $6k budget — beware the $3-4k options on the market, as they’ve likely been ragged out. But if you want to get a car that you’ll enjoy driving every day, that you’ll have a blast chasing cones with, and that will recoup nearly every dollar you spend when you go to sell, the 2.5 RS is your best bet.

However, don’t forget that in autocrossing, especially at the regional level, driver talent is much more important than car selection. Don’t believe me? How about the fact that Scott McHugh just won H Street at the El Toro Pro Solo in a 2013 Honda Accord? Or that he finished third in the freaking Super Challenge? Granted, Scott owns a couple of national championships in his C4 Corvette, but it just goes to show you that nearly any car can be quick in the hands of the right person.

And, as a gesture for writing such a nice letter to us here at Ask Bark, if you do the sensible thing and get yourself a winter car, I’d be more than happy to garage the Vette for you in the snowy months. Just because I’m nice. Also, because I’d drive it to Mexico and never come back.

Got a question for the Barkster? You know what to do. Email him at barkm302@gmail.com or find him on Twitter at @barkm302.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • 87 Morgan 87 Morgan on Apr 19, 2016

    I don't get the 'I want to race it' part of the equation. You have one race car, typically most people find one to be enough of an expense. If you can set that aside. Ford Ranger. 2x4. Ran autotrader for 6k or less, found 104 within 500 miles of Denver. Found a nice 97 super cab with topper for $5988 and 76k miles. Perfect winter car, put some sand bags or cheap concrete bags in the back for some weight or even some snow tires if you are feeling frisky. A well cared for small truck always brings the money back.

    • See 2 previous
    • 87 Morgan 87 Morgan on Apr 19, 2016

      @PrincipalDan Well Duh...no one is that much of animal that they would take their collector edition patriot off-roading and risk a scratch. I think CGJeep was referring to a Wrangler, non collector edition of course...

  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Apr 19, 2016

    Drive the Vette. When the forecast is for snow, have Enterprise bring you whatever they have cheapest. Before she had her own car my roommate used to rent crap from them for

  • SCE to AUX JFK used to pronounce Laos as "lay-oss", so I want to call this car "tay-oss". But I'm told by a true VW lover that it's pronounced "ta-owse", rhyming with "house". Maybe VW should rethink a few of their product names.
  • Jalop1991 No Android Auto/Apple Carplay, no car. It's that simple. I always have my phone with me, and it's dirt simple to plug it in and have Spotify continue where it left off. And the maps I want--Waze--are right there.
  • Eric As I would not buy a GM or any other EV the question is moot. As to Apple or Android play, I don't care if the car uses them. I don't use those apps anyway.
  • SCE to AUX I'd want Android Auto.
  • FreedMike They're highly important to me, particularly for navigation.
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