By on December 8, 2016

1968 plymouth valiant the truth about cars

We called our 1968 Plymouth Valiant 100 “Slithis” after a cheesy horror movie about snakes. I’m not sure why, in retrospect; most likely because it was a green. It wasn’t that metallic gold green popular in the early 1970s, sometimes called “baby shit green” (parents will understand). Just eight years after production, Slithis’ verdant topcoat was starting to lose its lustre. It had 98,000 miles on the odometer and we paid $50 for it — a genuine “$50 special.”

Today, something comparable would have twice as many miles, cost 10 to 20 times as many dollars, and likely be in far better shape.

In 1976, a typical car was used up at 100,000 miles — or only mostly used up in this case. My now ex-wife Batya and I were starting our life together, soon to be joined by our first child, Sarah, who rode home in Slithis from the hospital after her birth, protected by what was then the latest in child safety technology: the General Motors Infant Love Seat. Bat made me stop at least a couple of times on the way home to make sure Sarah was breathing. New parents, go figure.

The Valiant was as “base” a car as one could get. I called it a small print car. Back then, the daily newspaper (remember newspapers?) sports sections often had full page ads from Sears, Firestone and the like, with ridiculously low teaser prices for batteries and tires in huge letters, while the small print at the bottom specified something like a skinny 13-inch tire size that fit maybe 1 percent of cars on American roads. Slithis took the tires and batteries in the small print. I remember a manager at a Sears automotive department insisting that the battery I wanted to buy wasn’t big enough and I had to show him in the reference book that a Valiant with a 170 cubic inch Slant Six indeed took it.

1968 plymouth valiant the truth about cars

This ’68 Valiant is the same color as Slithis, but our Valiant only had two doors.

Yeah, Chrysler made a small version of that legendary engine for folks who were really cheap. How cheap was my mom’s friend from whom we bought Slithis? Well, the car had a heater, though by 1968 those might not have been extra cost options (yes Virginia, people used to have to pay for a heater), but the original purchaser did likely have to pay extra for the AM radio. There wasn’t any carpeting, just rubber mats, though the were pretty durable and easy to clean.

We added a cheap cassette player and a pair a speakers for the back deck to have sounds for when we went to New York City to get wholesale orders for the Hydraulic Bong at the National Boutique and Gift Show. Gotta have sounds. I think we paid almost as much for the stereo as we did the car — $35. On the way from Ann Arbor to Detroit on the way to NYC, the muffler blew out, so we stopped at a K-Mart for its cheapest muffler. It was single-digit cold and we had had a hard time getting the passenger compartment warm on our way to Detroit, so we grabbed some cardboard out of the trash at the K-Mart and stuck it in front of the radiator.

There was 5 degrees of slop in the steering — okay, maybe 10 — but it got us to New York and back and then some. We eventually racked up another 20,000 miles or so before the littlest Slant Six gave up the ghost when an oil pump failed on my way to pick up some acrylic tubing to build more bongs.

Hand-me-downs excepted, what was the cheapest car you ever bought that was in more or less running condition? How bad was it? How good was it? How long did it last?

[Image Source: Chrysler,]

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145 Comments on “QOTD: What Was the Cheapest Car You Ever Bought?...”

  • avatar

    Just remember this: no modern, cheap car will ever replicate the Slant Six starter sound of a garbage can rolling down a hill…

    (Mopar fans know)

    You know what’s cheaper than K-Mart’s cheapest muffler? A couple feet of fence post (BTDT).

    What’s the fastest that car could go with the 170cid engine? I’m guessing 90mph or less. My ’75 with a 225 was spent by 105 on the speedometer, which was probably about 95-100 actual… and afterwards I’d have to adjust the valves because a few of the adjustment screws would move around from extended operation at such blistering engine speeds (a couple minutes at 4000rpm).

    I too am familiar with the carboard over the radiator trick. It did wonders for the heater performance and my personal comfort!

    • 0 avatar

      Damn it!

      All Mopars had that gear reduction starter. Love that sound.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah yes, the Highland Park Hummingbirds. Interestingly enough, most starters these days are reduction-gear. I’m actually pretty amazed at how tiny they are.

      I remember changing one on a (2nd-gen) Cadillac Seville; it was a Delco direct-drive starter and the goddamn thing must have weighed 30 lbs.

      • 0 avatar

        Also “Hamtramck Hummingbird”. Chrysler ignitions sounded the best.

      • 0 avatar

        More like twenty pounds. If it were thirty it would’ve knocked my tooth out when it fell on my upper lip. Had my first date with my wife that evening with my lip swollen. Couldn’t kiss her, but she kept me around anyways.

        I bought that ’69 Cadillac Calais for $100 in 2002. Previous owner said it needed a new cam. I put the plug wires in the right order and it ran smooth. Motor was pretty hosed though, and now it’s going into a LeMons racer. The car currently has a later 500cid in it.

    • 0 avatar

      The Highland Park Hummingbird. Rip Rip Rip Rip

    • 0 avatar

      The Slant-6 became in/famous because it ran (like crap) forever. Hot Rod Mag once did a feature on the the Slant-6 that was titled. Chrysler Slant-6: The Thing the Wouldn’t Die

      • 0 avatar

        Way back when, TTAC had a blurb about how the engine was tested under load. Incredible.

        BTW, my ’63 slant six blew the oil pump too. It took about $20 in junkyard parts and several hours of scraped knuckles, but it was running again, and it ran another 11 years with another owner until rust removed the leaf springs.

        Also to answer JimC2, 1968 top speed was 95, with 0-60 in only 16.8 seconds, with the torqueflite. The manual was 2 seconds quicker. I had the 225 slant six and torqueflite, good for 101 mph (though I chickened out at 97 in my one attempt) and 12.6 in the 0-60. The manual was good for 11.7, but top speed was still only 94.

  • avatar

    A ’64 Grand Prix, for $395. It ran and drove – just ignore that smokescreen.

  • avatar

    K-Car. Bought for $200. Drove for 50,000 kms. Sold for $150. 1 repair and in the end drove in December bypassing the heater core looking out the side window because I couldn’t defrost it without the sun. I tried to do this again years later with a Cavalier. Junked it after 4 months after breaking down 3x. Still, $1000 (incl parts) for 3 months use is slightly better than a new lease at the time…only slightly.

  • avatar

    A 1993 240SX for $500. The body and interior was ragged out but it had a manual transmission and I was in love. It would run beautifully until it reached operating temperature and then it would start having issues. My dad sold it to my BIL (for $500) two months later before I time to straighten out and demanded I sign the title to get “that POS” out of his yard. Two months later I came across another 240SX in his cousin’s parts yard. A 1994 model with a cherry interior and body, it had a knock down low and an automatic transmission. He only wanted $400-something, if I still had the ’93 I could have had a nearly perfect MT 240SX by swapping some parts around for less than a grand. That was the only time I ever cussed at my dad.

  • avatar

    1985 Ford LTD Station Wagon – $500.00 Bought because overseas family was coming and the thing seated 8-9 people with the rear backwards facing seats. Had a cracked windshield that the seller paid to replace before I bought it. Power everything! Drove for the summer and sold it for the same 500.00

  • avatar

    I bought a 1974 Volvo 142S for $500 in 1993. It was one the most expensive cars I have ever had to fix. It had high miles and everything broke on it. Parts from Sweden cost about 3 times the cost of domestic parts.

    My father, who owned a 122S when he was 19, encouraged me to buy the car. It had a leaking exhaust manifold, a leaking gas tank, bad brakes, bad shocks, a clutch that failed, motor mounts that broke, a bad signal switch, bald tires, a failed blower motor (This resulted in major surgery), a rusted fuse box, and a failed fuel pump. The rusted fuse box caused the horn to sound continuously when you started the car.

    The failed fuel pump resulted in me getting stranded on the road while going to college. That resulted in one of the biggest blowout fights between me, my Father, and my Mother that we would ever have in our lifetimes…on the side of the road..while we tried to fit the stuff I was carrying in my Volvo into the family Ford Taurus Wagon.

    It survived one semester in college before it was hit by a Chevy Blazer over winter break. It was badly dented on the rear quarter and it dragged when more than one person was in it. It was at that point that my Father looked at the oil filler cap and realized from the milky white goo on it that the head gasket had blown.

    I worked two jobs and put in about 5 grand into it..and it was scrapped. I called it “The Car That Wanted To Die.” I was devastated though. I loved the car…it just didn’t love me back. Unrequited Car Love. When it was wrecked the Italian Mechanic who did the work on the car just shook his head and said “It’s just a F–king Shame..” I could have sworn I saw a tear in his eye.

    I did get 2 grand back from the Insurance Company but I had to go to small claims court to get it. I never owned another Volvo…once bitten twice shy I guess.

  • avatar

    I won a car (well, use of a car) several years back – a three-year lease on a ’10 Honda Civic, from an auto show contest. Of course, I ran through three years worth of mileage in two years, but still, a new car for nothing more than maintenance was a decent deal (I’m still quite fond of those Civics as well).

    For something I actually spent money on, I bought a ’93 Escort for $100. It only had about 100k miles on it at 13 years old, but it had spent enough time by the ocean to be more rust than car at this point. Still, I got it on the road, it was reliable(ish – it’d vapor lock or something on rare occasions, and had a few electrical gremlins), and probably would’ve run it into the ground if it didn’t get totaled 10 months later. That car was also how I learned (quite by accident) that FWD cars could oversteer.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 93 Escort with the 1.9 which I bought for $400 back in 05. It was a good rig that I got when petrol starting shooting past $2.50 (was driving a 10mpg Aerostar at the time).

      It died 7 months later when the transmission had a stroke.

  • avatar

    1992 Infiniti G20 in 2007 when in college. Bought off ebay for $700. 305,000 kms, bald tires, floppy suspension, cracked windshield, no heat (later fixed), windshield wiper mechanism would come apart randomly when using the wipers. Loud rusted exhaust, rotted rocker panels and rear floor pans. Car shifted perfectly and its SR20 engine didnt use a drip of oil between changes.

    Drove that ugly SOB for nearly 2 years until backing out of the driveway through a snowbank ripped the exhaust in half. That was it. You can drive a POS, but not a POS with no exhaust!

    Believe it or not I sold it for $350 to a kid that was going to fix it and do an SR20DET swap but years later I checked the VIN and it was still in my name, I assume the only swap it did was into a pop can.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    1997 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 with leather, AT and sunroof. The dealership wanted $3,500 for it; I negotiated them down to $800 when it was discovered that only three of the six cylinders were firing and the A/C was intermittent…then had the cylinder issue fixed for about $300. The A/C worked for a summer, then quit spectacularly as the compressor exploded and threw shrapnel into the radiator. My friend fixed the radiator and front end for $150 plus the low cost of parts, and I installed a bypass pulley on my own to deal with the lack of an A/C compressor.

    Then I got sick of the car all the same and bought a new 2014 Jetta SportWagen TDI.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I did the bypass pulley thing once (98 Grand Caravan); it’s a very unsatisfying exercise that says “I’m broke”.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        It is. At the time, I was just trying to put as little money into the car as possible because I knew I’d be getting a new one; I just didn’t know it would be so soon. But the numbers worked out.

    • 0 avatar

      There are only two VWs I actually like:

      1. The MKIII Jetta VR6
      2. The W12 Phaeton

    • 0 avatar

      I guess that ’14 TDI is working out well for you… how much is VW going to give you for it vs. what you paid?

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I traded the 2014 in for a 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI in April of 2015, so I don’t have it anymore. The local VW dealership actually still has it and uses it for a service shuttle.

        Between what VW is going to pay for the car with its current mileage and the restitution, it adds up to about a little less than what the car MSRP’d for new, on the Golf SportWagen.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My very first car (71 Pinto) was $125 in 1980. It had the excellent-but-weak 1.6L Kent pushrod engine (the core of which appeared later in the 1978 Fiesta), and 4-speed transmission. But its rear axle tube was broken at the differential pumpkin, and the underside was rusty – hence the cheap price. The broken differential made for an entertaining ride home.

    So I replaced the rear end and leaf springs, gave it a tune up, fixed a lot of rust, and replaced the (4) drum brakes. I learned a lot by working on that car.

    I drove it for a year (~12k miles), putting it over 100k miles when I sold it to an acquaintance at tech school for a small profit (minus my expenses). It was actually a reliable car.

    I did once pay $1 to a friend for her 1980 Bobcat, but this car turned out to be one of the most expensive piles of dung I ever owned. We had that car several years, and hated every minute of it.

  • avatar

    Cheapest new car was a 67 Chevy II 327 4-speed: $2300

    Cheapest car was a 73 Vega in 77 (blown head gasket): $100 I could turn those around in a couple hours, didn’t even have to unbolt the manifolds from the head. I was driving it on snow like Steve Kinser at Eldora and tore off the rf wheel on a driveway culvert pipe.

  • avatar

    The context was somewhere along the lines of if you can get this God xXxX thing out of my driveway you can have it. I did a roll start with 2 buddies and her father gave me the Title with $1.00 as cost…something about a legal sale had to have a dollar amount. I had to hide it from my parents & parked the 62 VW on a hill. It was a communal car with my buddies.Then did similar with 1952 Benz model 152 4 suicide doors I think that was the model no. A greased at 15 was one of my descriptions. (Sigh)

  • avatar

    82 Chevette- 75 bucks drove it until the brakes failed, gave it to a guy at work and went and purchased a White 91 5.0 LX A4 Mustang with the 16″ Pony wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a $600 1979 Chevette with four on the floor! It was awesome in the wintertime with studded snow tires and 100 lbs of steel in the trunk. Just needed a new head that my Dad and I did together while I was in high school.

  • avatar
    April S

    Somewhere around 1987 I bought my brother’s 1978 Dodge Colt with 75,000 miles and pretty much worn out for $300. The steel belts in the front tires had slipped which would cause a severe shimmy from 45 to 50 mph. Also the front drivers seat was trash so I threw it away and moved the front passenger seat over.

    Drove it about a year until I bought a new 1988 Plymouth Sundance two door hatch.

    P.S. My last girlfriend gave me her 1997 Honda Accord 4-door sedan for $0 but I ended up putting $2000 in it (steering rack/front struts/front engine seal/water pump/timing belt). Became a real good car. Over 200K miles before I sold it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The cheapest car I ever owned was an 85 Mercury Lynx that my older brother gave me which was actually the worst car I ever owned, but it was free. The cheapest car I ever bought was a 73 Chevelle Deluxe 4 door in 1975 for $1,400 with 80k miles. Not the cheapest car in this article but it had a 350 V-8, power steering, power brakes, AM radio, and cold cold air conditioning. It had been a company fleet car and it was my first car and one of the best running cars I have ever owned. It ran better a 100 mph than it did a 50–it most likely was broken in at that speed on West Texas roads in the oil patch (oil field service car). It was so smooth that you could not hear the engine when idling and it would lay rubber.

  • avatar

    I traded a 1998/99 era Thinkpad, which cost me $50, for an MY85 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in 2004 (FWD).

  • avatar

    Bought a 61 Chevy Belair in 1971 for $5. It ran, but that’s about all. Sold it a short time later for $35. Only time I ever made a profit on a car.

    Second cheapest was a 65 Rambler Classic for $60 that ran decently for a year (about 20k miles). Needed duct tape to cover some rust behind the rear wheels to get it through inspection, but it was a tank. Kids today are really missing out on the joys of a clunker!

  • avatar

    $200 – I’d have paid $300, but the seller was desperate and kept dropping the price. Surprisingly, this wasn’t a sign of something shady.

    The car was a ’92 Volvo 745 Turbo, six years ago. I daily-drove it for a year and a half – over that period I did plugs (twice) and wires (once), had exhaust from a ’90 parts car crudely welded on, mounted a rebuilt turbo to replace the one that failed catastrophically (hence the second set of plugs), and completely redid the front brakes after a caliper stuck.

    (Oh, and it ended up with the hood, lights, grille, and front trim pieces from that ’90 after the result of the sudden brake failure coupled with a woman on her cell phone pulling out in front of me and stopping dead in the travel lane rather than the turn lane… if the caliper hadn’t chosen that panic stop to give up, it would have been a tires-screeching near miss instead. Taught me something about the importance of maintenance; unfortunately, I suspect she didn’t learn jack from squat. At least we both drove away unharmed aside from my nose and her truck’s bumper.)

    Severin, as I’d named the car, finally decided he’d had enough of my crap and punched a hole in the side of the block one morning while I was headed to work. I stripped out everything useful, kept the 760 alloy wheels, and sent the shell away… for $200. Apparently the next town’s fire department used it for Jaws of Life practice.

    Best worst car I ever owned.

  • avatar

    A 1974 Vega Station Wagon for 75 dollars..Me and my buddy chipped in 35 bucks a piece….

  • avatar

    1977 4-door Chevy Impala for $450. Had it for 2 years. It started off as an 8 cylinder and became a 7 cylinder when one of the cam lobes wore down. I just removed both rockers/pushrods for that cylinder and kept on going. It idled rough after that, but once you got going it ran okay.

  • avatar

    The first car I was able to register, a 1975 Buick Skyhawk, cost me $300 in 1989. The car I had before that, a ’74 Audi 200, was free, but then it snapped in half from rust and caught fire at the salvage yard. Good times, great fun.

  • avatar

    I once traded myself a first gen Honda Prelude for a slighly stylish wooden shifter from a car I had scrapped (which was incidentally incredibly expensive). After a week I relaised I had no way to store or fix it, I had to travel to my new home and the guy I had bought it from had gotten an offer from some guys who wouldn’t arrive until after I had left for home, so I sold it back to him for 50 bucks more. I also once bought a car from a friend just so he could afford to go out partying, for a little over 100 of your dollars.
    I’ve also bought a lot of cars for scrap, taken the parts I needed then sold them for scrap, so in effect I’ve lost nothing, but gotten a bunch of free parts.
    In total my first 20-something cars probably cost less than each of my last 3 cars alone as by then I started having car payments…
    I kinda miss driving clapped out old bangers now that you made me think about what ‘proper’ cars really cost me…

  • avatar

    1962 Corvair Monza Coupe. My first car and cheapest, it was free.
    Aunt said, “If you can find a ride up here (to Las Vegas from L.A.) and get it off of the street from in front of my house you can have it.” Had one flat tire plugged. Filled the others with air. Put a new fan belt on.
    Six months later, this car tried to kill me, Thanksgiving Day 1974, on the elevated transition ramp from the 91 Freeway, west to Interstate 710 south.
    While my younger brother and I made it to Grandma’s house in time for turkey dinner, he would never ride in THAT car, again.

  • avatar

    In 1973 I bought a 69 Beetle for $500. Used it for 3 yrs and sold it for $500

  • avatar

    1965 Corvair Monza coupe in 1975. Nice interior, paint was so-so. 35 bucks, only it lacked an engine. No biggie, the seller had a running engine for 50. I carted them both home, assembled them and drove the car another 4 years, including road trips to Washington State, Texas, and up into Canada all the way to Banff, then down thru Montana and Colorado then back home.

    Definitely worth the money.

  • avatar

    In the late 80’s I got a zero-rust cherry Datsun B210 for $100. It had a bad head gasket, but at the time my Dad worked for a parts importer so he could get parts at their cost. I got a complete gaskit kit for a few dollars and a complete manifold back exhaust for $10. Ran like a top until I totaled it a couple of years later.

  • avatar

    I once paid $500 for a quad4 powered 1995 olds achieva. It had 120k on it. It was a garbage car in every way. Garbage build quality out if garbage materials, garbage ride and garbage reliability. I only got it cuz I had no $$$ and needed a car. I hated it and wass glad when the trans lost gears 3 and 4. I drove it as a two speed for six months till it shit the bed compleatly. Good riddence.

  • avatar

    In 2009 ago a guy called me up to pick up a broken 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 180k miles from the hospital parking lot for me to scrap. He swore the transmisson had finally blown and bought a new car the next day. I loaded it up, got it home and checked things out. The problem was a transmission cooling line that had popped off its cooler and dumped 1/3 of the trans fluid. I called the guy back, and met him the next day at a DMV messenger to transfer the title to my name.

    The messenger service and state cost me $115.

    Seven years later I still have less than $2000 in the Jeep (including two set of tires) and just hit 262k miles. It’s now even lifted and on big wheels and tires just because it was cheaper to buy used parts off Craigslist than aftermarket replacement parts.

    I’m finally planning on scrapping it in 2017 after the inspection runs out next year because of unibody rust issues…but not after I strip everything I can sell off or out of it.

  • avatar

    Smashed up ’92 Civic EX-R (canada market) that my Russian/Ukrainian buddies and I bought one summer when we were incoming juniors in high school, $200 out of the local classifieds, $40 a person. Car had been in a decent front fender bender, radiator support pushed into the alternator belt a bit but no leaks and no overheating. No title, nothing. Handed over the cash and we got the keys. We just all wanted to learn how to drive stick shift I guess. I think only one of us had a permit, but he couldn’t drive stick. So we took some backroads back from the boonies where we bought the car, totally high on adrenaline. Ended up hanging out in the sketchy apartment block (where a lot of FOB immigrants settled) parking lot scheming on our next move. We came up with a plan to park it in an abandoned lot and just come back to drive it once in a while. Later that day after I left my buddies got pulled over in it. Cops were worried it was stolen, but somehow they believed our story that it was purchased legit. Car was towed, my friend that was driving had some tickets to pay (we all chipped in). Towing fee was more than the car was worth I think, and that was that.

    Same story repeated itself about a year later, this time just me on my own. I did have a full license by then. Almost the same car even, a ’94 Civic sedan with a stick shift. Rusty and beat with a bad alternator, mine for $250. Was driving it home with the lights off at dusk to make sure the battery would make it home. Pulled over by Cornell University PD, this time the car got towed to my parents’ place, and I was the one getting the fines (car without inspection/registration/insurance). My dad insisted on driving the car back to the seller and getting some of my $250 back. Took my ‘earnest young man just trying to fix up an old car” story to the city DA and ended up just getting a probationary 6 month period where as long as I didn’t get any tickets in that time period, those three would disappear. The was the end of my cheap Civic adventures.

    Good luck finding a running anything for $200 any more!

  • avatar

    What the car makers never want anyone to know is that reliable fully depreciated cars exist but no one is ever going to go out and sell you one. You have to find them. Over a lifetime it can save you tens of thousands of dollars.

    • 0 avatar

      ” reliable fully depreciated cars”

      Mhhhm. The 20 year old Lexus I’ve been racking up commuting miles on since the beginning of October is testament to that. $1600 and about $700 into parts and labor and I’ve got a car I would drive out to California at the drop of a hat, in comfort. Not having to freak out about parking lots at the grocery store is nice as well.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. Not quite in the same range, but my wife’s first car was a used 02′ Elantra bought for $7500. It had dings on it at time of purchase, but also only 25k on the clock. We ran that up to 130k over the years, and it was very liberating being able to drive it anywhere around Atlanta knowing it wouldn’t be stolen and if someone scratched it–who cared?

      Total parts cost over its life was a few hundred bucks total for a new radiator and a strut. I sold it on the cheap to a cousin, and it’s still kicking around as we speak.

  • avatar

    Picked up an 1984 Olds Firenza for 25 bucks at a dealer auction. Leaked transmission fluid, the wipers did not work, and one tire had a slow leak. But otherwise ran great.

  • avatar

    A ’61 Ford Falcon Ranchero. Paid $125 for it so that I’d have wheels while my ’72 Type 2 bus was being repaired (after a meeting with a Wayne-bodied International bus who cut into my lane while driving down into Grand Targhee ski resort). Blue, three-on-the-tree, around 93k miles, tiny 144 cu-in I-6 with a carb the size of a tomato paste can. AM radio; couldn’t put anything less than 5 sq-ft in the bed (it would fall through the rust hole); tranny was two, sometimes three speed (most shifts to second were rejected so, down to third). Ran great even in the minus 0 temperatures of Southeast Idaho winter. I was driving out to the National Reactor Testing Station one afternoon in about 4″ to 6″ of snow at a reasonable speed (around 50 or so) when, all of a sudden, my little Ranchero started slowing down and down. The snow coming off the left front tire was pushing up through the rusted floor under the full-width rubber floor mat and lifted my foot right off the gas pedal. Sold it after a couple of months when my bus was repaired for $125.

  • avatar

    I guess technically the cheapest is the ’73 SIII Land Rover 88 that was given to me, but it was FAR from roadworthy. Cheapest otherwise was a ’76 Volvo 242 for $1200, but that was in 1987. It ran for a few months… I was given a ’79 Datsun 310GX by the dealer who sold me the Volvo…

    The cheapest running/driving/roadlegal adjusted for inflation was frankly pretty much the best buy I have ever had on a car – $1250 sight-unseen from eBay for a ’95 Volvo 945 with 212K on it in 2011. I needed a stopgap car between selling my Saab 9-3SC and taking re-delivery of my ordered for Euro Delivery BMW 328i wagon. Everything worked, it was clean and straight, and I maybe put $500 in parts/maintenance into it over the year I had it. Needed this and that for inspection, and I changed the oil a couple times. Front brakes too, I think. Put a pile of miles on it too that summer. Then I sold it for $1750. Result, as they say.

    Also in the running is my ’84 Jetta GLI. Bought it in ’92 for $1850 with 150K on it. Put 100K on it and sold it to my best friend 4-5 years later, we then traded it back and forth as a toy car for a decade to the 400K+ mark before tinworm finally got it. He bought another one that looked just like it down south and made one near perfect car out of the two. That one is still around town, I see it occasionally. Pretty sure my friend still has the engine and trans from the first one in his shed.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Aside from some family member specials I had a string of “disposable cars during my time in Italy. They were:

    1970 Olds Cutlass – 200 bucks. Brakes went out and it crashed through a toll gate so…

    1987 SEAT Malaga Diesel. 300 Bucks Basically a Spanish built MK-1 Jetta I think. Kept finding bolts in the driveway. Later found the held the trans to the engine so,

    1984 Autobianchi A112 – 750 bucks. 900CC FIAT motor. Drove it all over Italy. Rebuilt the motor once and changed the Headgasket twice for I think 800L of gas coupons all in all.

    Then I reenlisted, got a big bonus and got an E30 BMW wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      Oh yeah, before the Autobianchi I had an Alfa Romeo 75 2.0 I got for 250 bucks.

    • 0 avatar

      The SEAT Malaga was in concept similar to the Jetta (sedan of a hatchback), but mechanically it was a sedan version of a SEAT Ronda, which was derived from the SEAT Ritmo – itself a rebadged Fiat Ritmo (aka Strada) after the SEAT-Fiat split – changed *just enough* to be judged as not a rebadged version of that vehicle.

      Therefore it is similar to the Fiat Regata – which was Fiat’s sedan version of the Ritmo, but as it took a different evolutionary path was a completely different vehicle, confusingly.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    Free car! 1978 Nissan Skyline 4-door sedan. $75, sold if for $75 a year later to another Sailor as I left Yokosuka.

    Had a couple of $400 beaters back in the States – ’82 Corolla 1.8 liftback and ’84 Nissan-Datsun Sentra wagon.

  • avatar

    I had almost the same car and paid 100 for it in the early 80’s. Mine was a blue 4 door with the 225 slant 6. A great running car by the standards of the day. I also had a relatively new 79 Aspen with the 225 and it never rand smoothly. The Aspen lived up to malaise era standards. The Aspen qualifies as one of, if not the worst car I ever owned.

  • avatar

    I paid $150 for a 1987 Plymouth (Turismo) Duster in 1993. my dad worked for a Chrysler-Jeep dealer at the time, and the owner thought the engine was seized and just wanted rid of it in favor of a newer car. Turned out a valve head had snapped off and dropped into a cylinder, preventing it from cranking. a $150 used cylinder head and some elbow grease later, and I was on the road. ‘course, it needed some other things; the spool valve in the steering rack was shot so random right turns needed a Herculean effort, the previous owner was a very large woman so the recline was broken; a junkyard seat fixed that. and since I was in Auto Shop II at school I fixed all of the oil leaks on the engine. Since that was Chrysler’s “use RTV everywhere” phase, that meant pretty much every gasket.

    but all in all, it wasn’t a bad car.

  • avatar

    1969 I got a $100 1959 Ford Fairlane. Piece of junk. A year later I got a $400 1963 Chevy Biscayne. It ran pretty good. Bought a lot of sub $1000 cars until 1986 when I paid a huge $13,000 for a new Mustang SVO. Haven’t bought a cheap car since.

  • avatar

    A $300 Gremlin…a 1972 that I bought in 1987. Bought it from an elderly European immigrant who was giving up driving. Three-on-the-floor; vacuum windshield wipers; no back seat. Rust that was low-to-moderate by Northeast Ohio standards. Beautiful paint – had been garaged all its life until I bought it.

    It had a leaking exhaust-manifold gasket but otherwise was a great driver. Until the Warner three-speed box gave out, while I was accelerating up an inclined on-ramp onto the Shoreway. The 2-3 shift fork lodged and then bent with me hammering on the lever in traffic.

    NOBODY had a replacement gearbox; and rebuilding a box was out of the budget. Until I found a new transmission shop that had that gearbox on the bench, with a warranty. My wrench bought it; turned in mine for a core charge; and we were off and running.

    For a week. Gearbox failed.

    The shop did honor the warranty. My mechanic did do me right…this time, and grudgingly. Replaced the gearbox again. Notably, the replacement for the replacement was NOT warrantied…even though it was the same transmission shop.

    And two weeks later I feel issues on the shifter. ABORT…ABORT…

    I sold it to a scuzzy used-car dealer for $75

  • avatar

    $35 (yes, thirty-five dollars) for my first car, a 1951 DeSoto.

    I got it when I was in my senior year of high school, and drove it all that year and the following summer. The ignition key had long been lost, so I rigged up a toggle switch under the dash. My little brother saw this trick and started it up one day — and promptly lost control of the car, sending it into the corner of our very solid house. The car lost. So instead of having a car at college, I had a very sketchy motorcycle that was being fixed more often than working.

    That DeSoto taught me a lot about vehicle repair and maintenance, and is perhaps responsible for my fascination with “orphan” cars. Yes, I’m the idiot who drives the Humber Super Snipe in the 24 Hours of LeMons.

  • avatar

    My grandparents gave me their old car as a high school graduation gift and I took my daughter’s ’91 Prelude when my ex-wife told me she was going to junk it. That was my daily driver for a year and a half. I’ve never bought a car for a less than $350 but there have been many $500 or less that I’ve owned. In ’94 I bought a $500 ’80 Volare Premier Wagon for $500 that I drove as my daily driver for about three years. A couple of Buicks were bought for $350 each. I bought the wrecked carcass of my daughter’s ’99 Honda CR-V to have as a parts car for our ’98. In October I bought another CR-V as my daily driver.

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    ’66 Chevy II (the Nova badge was newish) with the 230 straight six and Powerglide, for $75 in ’75. I kept it running for about two and a half years, until I got married and my wife refused to be seen in it.

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    Summer of 1971 . A 64 Pontiac Laurention ( Canadian Pontiac …Bell air trim level ) 250 cu in, with 3 on the tree. 100 bucks. The seller gave me the name of dude that would give me a safety check for a 40 oz of Canadian Club left on the front seat. I drove it for 8 months , until the old 250 threw a connecting rod through the block. I grabbed my stuff out of the car, left the hood up and hitch hiked home.

    A week or so later a guy left a message with my Mom. I needed to pay some obscene towing , and storage fee, or they would seize my car . To the best of my knowledge he still owns it.

    • 0 avatar

      1963 Chevrolet Biscayne Coupe, with a 250 and a 3 speed column shift.

      • 0 avatar

        @ AGR. Wow…..A 63 Chevy ,2 door sedan., some called them a “pillar” or a “post” . I call them a very much sought after collectors item.

        • 0 avatar


          Now yes collectible, but as you mention those cars started rusting, corroding, the floors went, unreal by today’s standards how those cars rotted away.

          Lets not get into brake lines corroding, single master cylinder, brake pedal to the floor and the car not stopping.

  • avatar

    HOLD ON! Ronnie, you’ve buried the lead here. You invented the bong???!! There has got to be a good story there, where can we read about it?

  • avatar
    WRX Banner

    I bought a 1986 Toyota Celica with 210,000 miles in 1998 for $400. I had just graduated from high school and I needed a car to get to and from work. My dad had a friend looking to get rid of his Celica for cheap, so I cashed in some Israel Bonds my grandmother had bought for me when I was born and I was suddenly mobile. Well, sort of mobile. I had never driven stick before, so I had to learn. I got one lesson from my dad which consisted of me repeatedly stalling out about 17 times in a row (not an exaggeration my dad actually counted) a block away from my house, but after that I was good to go.

    I loved that car. It was beat to hell, had the obligatory Toyota rust spots, AC didn’t work (luckily not a huge deal in Massachusetts) and its clutch was totally shot, but it was all mine and it actually ran great. It felt like it could fly (I later found out it had 116 horsepower) and it handled great. And for one blessed summer it was perfect. Then I stored it at my aunt’s house in rural Connecticut while I went off to college where some mice proceeded to make the air filter their winter home. It was never quite the same after that and died a couple years later. I still miss that car and every now and then find myself browsing listings for late 80’s Celicas.

  • avatar

    A slightly rusty, brown, 2 speed Honda-matic, 1979 Accord LX hatch bought in 1986 for $500. Because I had to have a Honda. Did it burn a quart of oil every 700 miles? Yes. Was it painfully slow? Yup. Did it rev at 4k RPM at anything approaching highway speeds? Of course. But I did love its quirks, velour seats, and the luxury of two front row ashtrays. I neglected the cooling system and the engine seized on a hot day not even a year after its purchase. Teenagers…

  • avatar

    My first car in 1996, a 1986 Ford Escort GL. 120k, 5 speed, 2 door. Paid a buddy from high school $200 for it…he said it’d overheated on him but still ran fine.

    Bought a new thermostat, coolant, oil filter, air filter, PCV valve, fuel filter, plugs, wires, cap, rotor, valve cover gasket, the whole 9 yards. Gave it the best tune up it’d ever had. Thing ran like a top. Washed it, clay barred it, waxed it, steam cleaned the interior, etc. Had to do brakes all around when the rears literally fell off. Got another 5 months out of it until the clutch went out a week before I left for college. Sold it for $500 to some guy and saw it driving around my hometown maybe 5 or 10 years ago now (still had my band stickers on it).

    Great car.

  • avatar

    About 30 years ago, I scored a ’73 Charger SE at an auction for $55 and drove it home.

  • avatar

    My used cars in order of cost, boring post, but entertaining for me. I might be forgetting, but for whats listed it’s an avg cost of $755 a car. Plenty of junk in here, but some good buys too! Cheap is fun and the stories are better too.
    1983 Malibu (a few times, my folks bought it for my brother and we traded it back and forth)
    1986 Celebrity (around 2005 good condition, from Grandma)
    1989 C30 Van (2004ish?, running and inspected)
    1979 250 (2016, needed fuel tank and some carb work, farm truck)
    1987 Suburban (in 2001, Running and inspected)
    1986 Eagle (2003, purchased for parts)
    1987 Eagle (2006, running not inspected)
    1993 Cherokee (2004, running, tree had fallen on it)
    1965 Marlin (2003, first old car, rough project)
    1984 Eagle (2001, first car! running not inspected)
    1937 Chevy 1.5 Ton (Paid scrap, paid too much)
    1994 Mustang (2011ish, needed tires and brake line, running not inspected)
    1954 Customline (2016, project purchase)
    1995 F150 (2014, Running not inspected, actually $501)
    1966 Rebel (2007ish, running not inspected, great car!)
    1993 Caravan (2013, running and inspected)
    2000 F550 Diesel Dump (2015, running not inspected, farm truck!)
    1982 Dodge Rampage (2014, sorta rough project, but you never see them)
    1988 Eagle (2004, Running inspected)
    1979 Lebaron (2014, Running and Inspected, 18k miles. 70s cars are bargains)
    1968 Javelin (2006, Running not inspected. Solid muscle car just needed/needs paint)
    1996 Cherokee (2005, Running and Inspected with 76k on the clock)

  • avatar

    The cheapest car I ever bought is the one I have now – a 2003 Buick LeSabre.

    I guess that makes me a brat?

  • avatar

    My first drive able car was a pea-soup green 1973 Pontiac Ventura II. I traded a guitar (a crappy plywood Hondo Les Paul copy, with. the bolt-on neck) for it. This was in Wisconsin, so the floor consisted of 2X4’s and road signs (a Yeild and a Ped Xing). The car came with a set of the “styled steel” wheels and a set of the normal steel ones, and an extra radiator. I sold the nice wheels and radiator for $100, and drove the thing to school and my grocery store job. It looked terrible, drove down the road crookedly, smoked pretty bad, but I was DRIVING, so I didn’t care. Once school was done, I sold the drive train and subframe to a guy who wanted them for a hot rod, again for $100. The funny part was the car had one Iowa plate (that the seller kept) and NO paperwork, I never bothered to even try licensing it and drove it for at least 6 months… not even close to legal. I never had any hassles, though. So yeah, I actually made a profit on it, definitely the only automotive transaction THAT happened for me…

  • avatar

    At a dealership I worked at, we had a Lada in for a no-start. The mechanic came in with this thing, and said “Think you can get me one of these?”. I said “Starter motor?”. He said “No, solenoid.” The thing was huge.

  • avatar

    $50 in 1993 for a 100k mile 1982 Pontiac Pheonix -iron duke 2.5 4cyl w/3spd auto and air from my father’s co worker. It was his wife’s baby- rust free, new gm engine ( original ran fine but was “noisy”) Goodwrench transmission, new cv axle’s, all new exhaust, new struts, shocks, springs, steering rack and completely new brake lines and brakes.

    It was in his driveway dead. Totally dead. He had sold its new tires and the battery at his garage sale. It was just sitting there on rims.

    CAR WOULD NOT START – It had been towed to 4 area GM dealers and then 2 independent garages. After 1200 bucks spent on saying we can’t get it to start – can’t find the problem then towing it to the next garage he bought her a new Toyota.

    My dad asked if I wanted a car for 50 bucks and told me about it. Heck yeah ! Dad took the rims the next day and got new tires while I was in class at college and we towed it home. No manual and the whole dash and computer were on the floor and in the back seat. Supposedly. Dad said “you figure how to put the computer and dash in and I’ll put in my truck battery and let’s see what it does”. He went to hook up the positive side mount terminal (GM) and noticed the small wire coming off the terminal felt funny. Cut it off and it was corroded inside the jacket. Cut out the bad section and spliced in and hooked up the battery. I turned the key and it fired right up. Turns out the little wire runs straight to the computer to power it.

    He went in to work later (2nd shift toolmaker at IBM) and the seller said sarcastically “how’s your kids car running?”.

    With a big shit eating grin “oh, we had it running in 15 minutes”.

    The guys cursing and screaming was heard across several departments and nearly brought security.

    For your further amusement about Dads – I was going to sell the car to help pay for school but my father wouldn’t let me. Blue book was $3000ish and I had like $350 into it with new tires and battery. He said ” its too nice a car to sell ” so he registered it and drove it everywhere over northeast PA and upstate NY. “it’s great. it gets like 35mpg no matter where I go “. Yes, my well to do father liked driving a GM shitbox I got for 50 bucks rather than his sweet 1 year old all option Chevy 1500 4×4 or his “beater” car – a 7 year old Cadillac Deville with 60k.

    Then next year my uncle the preacher stole the car but that’s a story for another time.

  • avatar

    First car: a 1962 Pontiac Tempest with a front bench seat, the two-speed Powerglide transaxle, 1/2 of a 389 V8 underhood, fire engine red and a near new white convertible top, 35,000 original owner miles and all for a 16 year old’s dear savings of $300. Proportionately in 1970 that was still a decent sum of money. Heater barely worked but that was what the bench seat and a 16 year old girlfriend were for, right? Drove that car into the ground which in this case was around 36,000 miles and did I forget to mention it also came with a nearly blown head gasket which quickly upgraded its status to fully blown gasket within six months of purchase.

    This was followed by a 63 Corvair Monza Spyder ($450), a MGA twin-cam ($325), a ’63 Cobra 289 ($2399 – yeah I got suckered then but if if if I’d been able to keep that one…), and a 1965 Pontiac LeMans for $300 that the original owner had factory order with all the GTO bits including the rock-crusher 4-speed and Positraction rear axle but a 326 V-8 instead. I drove that for four years and sold it to my brother for – – – $300.

    And by the way, heaters were still optional on 1970 Chevy Novas. My dad bought one off the lot and the only options were the heater, AM/FM, auto trans and chrome beauty rings for the dog dish hub caps. Not even carpet, rubber mats. Ashtray, but no (optional) cigar lighter. $2900 off the dealer’s lot and still my dad bitched that was waaaay too much for a Chevy.

    • 0 avatar

      $2,900 does seem like way too much for a ’70 Nova that didn’t have carpet and power steering in addition to the options you listed. Base price of the volume model was $2,254. There was even a 4 cylinder listed in 1970 for less, although only a couple thousand were sold.

      Did your Cobra or MGA Twin-Cam run? What do you mean when you said you were suckered?

  • avatar

    Think I paid about $800 for a 240Z in 1988. Could have killed me 10 different ways–had problems with the brakes and a wheel falling off. Had some fun though.

  • avatar

    Lots of sub-$100 cars I’ve owned over the years:

    1986 Subaru Standard. Paid $35. Drove it home. Went to change the oil and the filter was seized on so tight that I broke the external oil pump trying to get it off. I bought a new oil pump, but some cross member or something prevented me from getting the old one off, so frustrated, I sold it as is for $100.

    1988 Ford Taurus L. Yep, the one with the stroked Tempo I-4 and a 3 speed automatic. Paid $50 because the idiot thought the trans went out and then the engine seized. He had the battery in backwards and there was a pinhole leak in the trans cooler line that I fixed in about 4 minutes lol. I also replaced the starter solenoid and the headlamp switch that were damaged when Mr. Mechanic-of-the-year hooked red to – and black to +. Drove it for several months, sold it for $800. Actually $750 and a beater Datsun Sentra automatic with a broken timing belt that I turned around and sold to a scrap yard an hour later for $50.

    1991 Mercury Sable, paid $35. Horrible condition, but ran/drove. I replaced two heavily damaged doors with ones I already had on a free parts car (with a blown 3.8L! Imagine that!!!!). I ended up giving it to a buddy. He drove it for a few months before it overheated extremely bad and the oil pressure warning light came on. We intentionally crashed it into the parts Sable, trying to pop the driver airbag, but couldn’t build enough speed (lol the poor bastard was probably running only on 3-4 cyls). Gave both Sables to a scrap guy.

    198? Mazda GLC. Paid $50 and beat the holy hell out of it until it died

    1986 Plymouth Reliant. Gave $50 trade-in credit when I sold a 1987 Tempo 2 door 5spd to my buddy’s then gf. Sold the Plymouth three days later for $236 (the guys whole paycheck LMAO). Hated driving that car. The Tempo was a million times better, no wonder it impressed her enough to “upgrade” from the un-Reliant-able.

    1985 Ford Tempo GL sedan automatic. Paid $50. Drove it home. Heater core hose blew, I was a novice mechanic in the strictest sense at the time, so I was pretty gullible and was convinced by some @$$hole at Napa that wrapping the hose in duct tape would fix it. It didn’t. Overheated and blew a head gasket. I parted it out and scrapped it. I sold the tail lamps for $100, so I doubled my money there alone. I wish I would have kept it. It was extremely clean for a 1985, and ran/drove excellent before the MacGyver hose fix cooked the engine.

    1983 Mercury Zephyr GS sedan, 3.3L I-6 had 239K when I bought it out of the woods where it had sat for years. Paid $100. Dumped some gas down the carb, drove it home and went on to drive it off and on for several years, including a cross country trip. In its time with me, it got a new v/c gasket, oil/filter changes, a set of tires and a water pump. My shithead brother left it, in running/driving condition with the keys in it, in a Phoenix-area truck stop. I should still kick his fat @$$ for that. I grew to love that old ZephDog (as my friends called it) and its bulletproof Inline 6. It was somewhere between 270-300k miles last anyone saw. It was, of course, stolen and then involved in a single vehicle crash, finally ending up in a Phoenix-area junkyard.

    I still want a Zephyr with an inline 6. Just as long as it ain’t a wagon! I’d love another Z-7 (I had a 1978 Z-7 I was forced to sell when relocating) or just a two door sedan, but would settle for a 4 door sedan if the right one came along. Gotta have the Inline 6. Nothing else will do.

    I was actually looking at a 1981 Zephyr GS sedan, same color inside and out as my ’83, had the 3.3L and only 78K one-owner miles. It was at a dealer near Atlanta and he wanted its weight in gold for it, so after getting nowhere in negotiations, I ended up finding my current 1995 Taurus near Mobile, Alabama, and it met my requirements for a fraction of the space-cadet dealer’s Zephyr’s price. Sure, the Taurus had a lot more miles (111K more IIRC), but its been a fantastic car and worth every cent I paid for it and/or put into it. Although I’m sure I would’ve loved having an I-6 Zephyr again, I’m glad it worked out how it did. I couldn’t be happier with my 1995.

  • avatar

    Me and a buddy split $50 dollars on a beater Toyota sh!tbox. We grabbed our helmets and thrashed that thing for an afternoon of fun. We let some friends get in on the action and they over-jumped a large mound of gravel and killed it.

  • avatar

    You would have had to have grown up in the UK in the 70s to remember this one – but a 1974 Vauxhall Viva was my purchase. £200 and the vendor disappeared before I had a chance to slip into full buyers remoorse mode.
    Would regularly stall out in damp weather (No shortage of that) and would only testart with liberal application of WD40 to the points.
    Never bought another Vauxhall/GM product again.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    In 1975 I got an ex-electric company 1966 Beveldere I (3 on the three, 225) for $15. It lasted that summer.

    In 1979 I a 1973 Pinto (4 on the floor, 1.6L) for $50. It lasted 4 months.

  • avatar

    Too many to remember
    But the ones that really stand out were an 85 Subaru xt for $600 in 1993 a real rust bucket
    1997 for 150 ext cab 4×4 for $3500 in 2002 it was one of the first mod motors to eject a sparkplug.the dealer quoted $3900 to fix the truck. The owner didn’t believe a heli coil would ever work. I Helicoiled it and drove till last year when I got hit. Insurance gave me $3700. That was the best deal I had on any vehicle. Total lifetime parts including 2 sets of tires was only $2700 for 13 years

  • avatar

    1993 Lincoln Mark VIII for $700, in 2008. The baby blue paint was in rough shape, but the DOHC 4.6 V8 was all there. I’m pretty sure the rated 280hp was conservative. It was the best sleeper ever.

  • avatar

    I got a 1940 Dodge free from my grandfather. He acquired it from my uncle but lost interest in restoring it. It had set in his barnyard in the winter of 69/70 before I took a trailer and hauled it home. The engine was frozen so I bought a used flathead 6 for $25 and swapped it out. The brakes were out so I drove it close to home for several months and stopped by yanking the emergency brake until I fixed them. I kept it from 1970 to 1988 driving it fairly often. Then I sold it for $900.

  • avatar

    In 2006, I bought a ’91 Miata for $755. I saw it on the street for sale in my neighborhood, so I called about it. The seller had one other offer of $750, but the buyer wanted to part it out, so he said he would sell it to me for $755.

    The engine blew up a couple years later and I got a friend to replace it with a spare Miata engine he had. (He’s that kind of guy.) I paid him $1,100 for that, all in.

    I sold it to him a couple years after that for $1,000. I had a lot of fun for that that $855.

  • avatar

    Most everyone has me beat, but $800 for an ’88 Camry in 2000 is my cheapest. It was pretty solid too. It had about 120k miles and the only non-maintenance parts that I remember needing in the two years I had it were a starter and slave cylinder.

    The starter was misdiagnosed; the problem was on the flywheel side. I gave up and just lived with the occasional no start.

    I ended up stuck in 3rd gear when the slave cylinder died. It’s a good thing the area is mostly flat.

    The door locks had a mind of their own. I lived with that one too.

    The car was $1,123 in inflation adjusted dollars. I don’t see myself finding a usable car for that price these days.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a number of sub- $150 running and driving cars, even in the last few years. About a year ago, I bought a low-mileage ’87 Honda Accord LXi hatchback in very good condition for $90 plus fees from the Copart auction. It was listed as a non-runner, but all it needed was a $4 main fuse. It’s currently registered and I drive it occasionally.

    However, my sister has me beat. After her first divorce (or was it her second) she was car-less and managed to talk some acquaintance into selling her a late- ’80s Pontiac 6000 for $5. Yes that’s right– a running, driving Pontiac 6000 for a five spot. I thought it was a great thing until the starter went out and she asked me to change it. Talk about an impossible task!

    • 0 avatar

      My dad’s coworker sold us his mustard yellow ’77 Corolla 2dr sedan (4spd, manual everything) in ’94-ish for $1. Very rusty from one too many CNY winters, but it served us reliably for 2 years or so before the unibody started to bend when our mechanic put it up on the lift for an inspection. Sold it to the mechanic for $1. He sold it to some farm kids as a field car for $50.

  • avatar

    Can’t get much cheaper than free.

    Got it from a friend-of-a-friend, as at the time I was the “Citroen guy”, ended up with a surprisingly nice Citroen ZX turbodiesel wagon with 180k miles on the clock, that drove brilliantly.

    Ran it for about a year, mostly parked up in my dad’s yard (I only had onstreet parking in town, no space for 2 cars) where he would use it for running chores, it gave me an excuse to sell my practical comfortable Citroen Xantia to indulge in an Alfa GTV.

    After a year, I needed the money to fix up aforementioned Alfa Romeo, sold the ZX on for £400 ($600) (much to my dad’s relief as his ‘chore car’ was now gone!) to a buyer who inspected it extremely thoroughly like it was a £40,000 Bentley (I’m all for careful inspection of used cars, but bringing your mechanic pals to inspect a cheap old car all day?).

    Cars actually *bought* – my first car a £450 (~$700) Renault Clio – the replacement for the squared off mk2 of the Renault 5 of which the mk1 was otherwise known as ‘Le Car’. As a first car – fond memories. I can remember reaching the heady heights of 70mph, and having forgotten to put the oil cap on properly the underside of the hood was covered in 10w40. Luckily a salvage item from a 21 (aka Eagle Medallion) was the same.

  • avatar

    First car Peugeot 504L with 50k miles for $200. Got backended by a truck at a red light.
    Next car Opel Monza 3.0E with 80k miles for $300. Fantastic car, loved it until rust wouldn’t let it pass MOT (vehicle inspection). Still mourn that car somehow.

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    1988 Volvo 740 GLE Wagon. Bought in winter 2009 for $300 – hauled 150 miles home on a trailer because the Craigslist seller said it had “engine problems.” Figured I could get a junkyard drivetrain easily enough.

    It started right up, drove onto the trailer.

    Only used roughly a quart of oil every 50 mile or so.

    Let my wife drive it about six months later – I had to take the kids out of town while she was at work, so I took her more reliable truck.

    Rod through block halfway to work.

    We’d let our AAA membership lapse, apparently, so I attempted to rope-tow it home to try and salvage the pile. Yeah, that didn’t work so well. Wife didn’t keep a constant speed well in the truck, so I had to drag the brakes to keep from hitting her.

    The pads in the Volvo wore away within a few minutes, and flames started shooting from the rotors.

    We bailed, and called for a tow.

  • avatar

    Our cheapest car was a ’79 Pontiac Grand Prix, faded baby crap brown, and a 301 V8. No reverse and the rattiest interior I’ve ever seen on a car. But it ran good, just had to park in the back of the lot or push to get your car out. Magically, I tried to throw it into reverse one day, and after some clanking and drama from the transmission, started to back up. It did this just fine for the remaining three years that we drove it. I still remember the sound of Metallica playing through the one speaker stereo in the center of the dash. Good times.

  • avatar

    My Mom bought a 1963 Ford Fairlane from a neighbor in 1970 for $50.00. She drove it about 2000 miles a year and never but to work and the grocery store. It was white but the paint had faded to almost chalk by 1971. It had “3 on the tree” and we named it “Homer”. It was once injured in a slow speed side collision that barely dented the front fender. I remember walking out to the driveway after Mom returned home shaken, pounding the dent with my fist. It was like hitting an anvil compared to todays cars. Absolute thick sheet STEEL. Mom never changed the oil in the years she owned the car (only adding it as needed)always warning me not to even think of changing it as the car never failed to start (although it might take 10 minutes on a cold day). The car never had a repair outside of a battery. She was pretty sure the sludge was keeping the engine from coming apart. I would be amiss if I did not somewhat shamefully admit that I always asked Mom to drop me off about a block from high school back in 1972 so I could “stretch my legs” on the way in. Reality was I did not want any girl, or any friend for that matter, to see me chugging along with Homer and Mom. We almost had a party in 1975 when Mom sold Homer to yet another neighbor for the sum of………..wait for it……..yes…..$50.00. Mom never needed much and still does not today at age 86. Oh the memories.

  • avatar

    $200 for a 1976 Volvo 240 with 180k my wife picked up for me to fix up. Only took four junkyard brake calipers, new brakes and tires, and repairing a couple of electrical shorts behind the dash to get it on the road. Sold it for $400 and 325k on the odometer, still running problem-free. (We’ve owned fourteen Volvos over the years and never regretted any of the purchases.)

    Coincidentally, my first car, in high school, was a blue 1968 Valiant, but the top-of-the-line Signet with the 225 slant six! My wife bought a 1966 Valiant for $400 once, and loved it during her two years of problem-free use. She sold it to a retired Navy chief petty officer for $400, as it was exactly like the car he met and dated his wife in (he was extremely happy with the price and the car). Both were excellent, budget cars, by the way.

    • 0 avatar

      It paid to “exercise” the brake calipers on the 240, especially the rear ones. (Drive them back and forth in their bores to clean up internal corrosion.) There were a lot of hydraulic pistons and sometimes one of the pistons would get stuck in its bore- either not relaxing when you let go of the brake pedal or not applying when you pressed the pedal. That’s kinda part of the game for cars from that era that had such a long life! It probably didn’t affect the rare fraction of owners who actually changed their brake fluid every two years (per the manual).

      The odd brake piston that got stuck “on” would sorta take care of the problem after about a mile or two of smoke as the pad basically ground down enough. The odd piston that got stuck “off” would occasionally un-stick under moderate to hard braking and you’d feel the pedal move slightly away from your foot- disconcerting if you didn’t understand why.

      The calipers were supplied by Girling or ATE. I don’t think there was any discernible quality difference between the two. The front calipers on the 140 and 240 series were great big four piston affairs (Girlings at first, later ATE), all kinds of overkill for a 100hp 3000lb car. I’m pretty sure they were the same part as the rear calipers on the Ford Cobras during the 1960s… if not then closely related.

  • avatar

    $50 for a 1960 SAAB 93F in 1972. Not running, so Dad and I towed it from Niagara Falls to Albany with a 1966 Dodge Polara and U-Haul tow bar. Learned a lot about car repair from it. Sold it 18 months and 30K miles later for $175.

  • avatar

    ’72 Opel Rekord wagon in 1984 for $20. It ran but had too many problems to pass inspection. I had originally bought it to yank stuff off of to get my ’76 Rekord to pass inspection (mainly the brakes and wheels/tires). But I ended up scrapping them both and buying yet another Rekord, another ’72. That one lasted until I was reassigned stateside the next year. Strangely enough that was not to be the last Rekord I would own. When I got assigned to Germany again in ’88 I bought a fairly nice ’82 Rekord which I kept until buying my very first new car, a ’91 Plymouth Laser RS.

    • 0 avatar

      You and my late father must have been cut from the same cloth! He owned three different Rekords during our time in Germany. Two 1971’s and a 1981. There was just something about them that he appreciated. I got to drive the last one a few times back in the mid 90’s before he bought his last new car, a 1996 Dodge Ram. Man, that blood red interior of the Opel…:)

  • avatar

    1970 Pontiac Ventura for a neon beer light, I drove it about a year , my girlfriend drove it for a while, her brother for about a year and my sister drove it for about 6 months, this was around 1990 or so, it became a spare car that was past around when your car dies, it had no power anything, smallest engine GM made, it finally died when the tranny lost reverse. as of last year the guy who I bought it from , a family friend still had the beer light in his garage so I guess he got the better end of the deal.

    • 0 avatar

      My Uncle drove a $250 1964 Pontiac Parisienne 283 powerglide from Alberta to Ontario in the early 80’s without reverse. When asked how he did it he always came up with the same answer. “Easy, I wasn’t going back”

      • 0 avatar

        @MoDo …by the time the 80”s rolled around ,most of the early 60’s Pontiac’ s in Ontario were suffering from terminal frame rot. Your Uncle doubled his money , with that old Pontiac coming out of Salt free Alberta.

  • avatar

    1968 Firebird for $680. Rusted rear quarters, a leaking heating core that I ended up bypassing, windshild wipers that didn’t work (RainX for the win!), and a 400 engine out of a ’74 Grand Prix.

    It ran but with the powerglide transmission, mileage as laughable. Still had some fun with it.

    Years later I bought a brown ’81 Malibu with a knock for about the same price. Shifted good though – rusted out rear quarters, leaky windshield, and a rear end ratio that made acceleration a slow, stately affair. I ended up dropping in a $200 junkyard 305, bondoing the rear quarter panels, and my wife drove it for two years. It was actually very dependable with a non-OEM Holley carb on top and the “new” engine.

  • avatar

    In 1969 I bought a 1964 Opel Kadett wagon for $35. Local junkyard had a mate so I paid another $25 to own that one in its place, with unlimited visits and no limit to what I could strip. I took the running one to college and rented it out by the night to guys who had a date but no wheels. I never paid for a drop of gas for four years, and it earned me cigarette & beer money (people smoked back then).

    It died when the front passenger seat collapsed with someone in it… sparks flew while he tried to elevate himself from the seat. I drove it another couple months, but it lost its appeal with no front passenger seat.

    Car and Driver ran an article years ago citing the early 60s Kadett as the single worst car ever produced. I dissent.

  • avatar

    2 come to mind. Each 50.00 back in 1994 The first was a 1980 white 2 door Citation. It was sitting behind one of the used car lots in the area amongst many. It was deader than a doornail and the dealer didn’t know why. They said if you can get it out of here today it’s yours for 50. A couple of minutes under the hood revealed a 2.8 liter V6 hitched to a 125C 3 speed transaxle and a very old battery and some dodgy aftermarket wiring for both an alarm system and aftermarket radio. We removed the alarm system and bypassed it, jumped the battery and wallah. The car started right up after some pedal pumping and ran perfect. It has only 90K miles and was virtually rust free. A new 25.00 battery and some wire cleanup and we drove the little Chevy around all day and it ran like a top and even the A/C worked. Later that night we went through the car, stuck it out on our dealer lot and it sold within two days for 1495.00!

    The second was 1983 Slant six equipped white 4 door Grand Fury with blue interior and very little rust. It had a chronic stalling problem that the dealer couldn’t figure out. So we got that one also for 50 beans the following week. It was obvious within 5 minutes that this car had a major vacuum leak and it was traced to a bad PCV valve. Yup the actual ball was missing in the valve causing a direct vacuum leak. A new valve fixed this but she still ran rough. A new cap and rotor and a set of plugs soon cured that and the old six ran as smooth as could be. I drove this one around for most of the Summer of 94 because my other car was down for the count. With but 90 HP and 160 torque it was for sure slow and passing power on a two lane highway was at a premium but it did well enough around town.

  • avatar

    My current car, a 2002 Mazda Protege5, for $100!

    When I got it, it had stage 4 Rust on every wheel arch, and rust on every surface not covered by paint.
    The rear calipers were crapped out, the front pads are gone, there’s a decent oil leak, the spoiler is broken, all the plastic bits are rotting.
    But dammed if I don’t drive it to work!

  • avatar

    A 1979 Mercury Capri RS.. It’s quality was so poor, the interior squeaked and rattled over every bump. The final straw was when there were bolts holding the transmission found laying in my driveway. I owned it 3 months and traded it in for a Dodge Diplomat coupe with a slant six. Granted the Dip was no looker, but it’s quality was far superior to the Fox Capri.
    Ah the things we do as teens!
    PS. My first car was a ’76 Chrysler Cordoba with fine Corinthian Leather and a 400 engine…and 8mpg.

  • avatar

    It’s funny seeing how many times the Slant 6 pops up in these. Great engine, was built to last a lot longer than its contemporaries… and so many times it ended up in cars that were simply too big for it, especially the later smogged-down versions. Diplomat, Gran Fury, Aspen, those were a lot of car for the 90-95hp 160-170 ft-lb engines to push around, with any rear axle ratio. Pretty sure the Cordobas were also available with the six, at least on paper anyway. The 170cid version in the original story was a strange holdover for the first few model years of the 67-76 Dart/Valiant; the 225 was a nice fit for those cars and just powerful enough to comfortably keep up with traffic.

  • avatar

    I was gifted my parent’s old 1998 Plymouth Voyager last year – they decided they didn’t need 2 cars since they rarely leave the house, and I wanted something I could use for hauling inventory for my ebay/flea market side business.

    Unfortunatly, my free minivan was also one of the more expensive things I’ve owned. It took $1700 worth of work to get it to pass inspection and 6 months later another $3000 in work due to leaking seals. Then driving to an auction two months ago it started making a bunch of noise. Threw a rod. I threw in the towel and donated it to the ASPCA. And bought what I should have bought in the first place, a 5 year old RAM C/V cargo van.

  • avatar

    ’83 Toyota pickup that a bought from a kid who wrecked it, got it fixed for $40 and alot of labor and drove it for several years until I needed to buy a car and moved out of state. Its still sitting at my parents place collecting moss, a true “ran when parked” someday I hope to either bring it to me or give it to a younger sibling. “Twinkie” served me well, and I have alot of good memories in that truck.

  • avatar

    1966 Pontiac Lemans 2 door ‘post’ for $120 from a neighbor in 1981. 326/automatic, PS, and PB. Ran very well, but the previous owner had tried to paint it in their garage. The car was covered with bubbles that looked like acne pimples. I was a senior in HS, and loved the fact that some people mistook it for a GTO.

  • avatar

    1989 Jetta Turbodiesel. It was actually sold as a Jetta diesel and the previous owner converted it to a TD. Bought it in 2001. Drove it until 2003 when I bought a new Jetta TDI.

    Paid $1250 for it off Ebay in 2001, sold it on Ebay in 2003 for $1225.

  • avatar

    Back around 2005 I went to our local auto auction one Saturday evening while my wife was visiting family and out of town. In the corner sat a lonely looking 1981 BMW 320i, and the blau mit weiss running through my veins took over temporarily as I offered up $400. Called my wife and told her I was buying a BMW and she was excited until I told her where I was, and how much I was paying. It ran fine for a few minutes, but then would stall. Two fuel pumps later, I drove it for a year or so having intended on maybe doing some fixer-upper work on the little Bimmer to then give to my son as his first car. But then more and more of those little automotive gremlins started popping up and I just couldn’t see continuing to drive it as a DD, so I wound up selling it for exactly what I had put into it (purchase price and repairs), so essentially a free car for a year.

  • avatar

    Brand-new 1988 Honda Civic. Paid $9000, drove it nearly two years before filing a $3000 accident claim, then sold it for $8000.

  • avatar

    Two different Hyundais, an 02′ Sonata and an 02′ Elantra, both out the door for $7500. They did fine, and were still running when we got rid of them to various folks, though the Elantra held up a little better than the Sonata.

    The cheapest car that was ever bought *for* me was a 1985 Olds Cutlass Supreme, purchased for the lofty price of $1500. That was in about 1998-1999. We drove it for a few months to college, my late brother and I, before one fateful day on I-75, when basically every dashboard light on it illuminated, and we pulled off into the emergency lane, where we walked around behind it to find a river of multicolored fluids. My hunch is the transmission went, but who knows.

    A friendly cop drove us the rest of the way in the back seat of his cruiser, which was the one and only time I was ever in a patrol car, but certainly not the first or last for my brother :)

  • avatar

    I paid $250 for a 2000 Ford Contour in 2008. had 80,000 miles on it. needed a timing belt. Sold it a year later for $2500.

    Second cheapest is my 1977 Chevelle sedan, paid $300 for it in 2009, and have put 100,000 miles on it since.

  • avatar

    After I wrecked my first S2000 on black ice in 2013, I told myself I needed a winter beater. In early spring I found it: a 1992 Isuzu Rodeo 4×4 with a 5-speed. Listed for $1400 on craigslist in the DC suburbs, I got it for $1000. We named it the Brodeo.

    Since it was old enough to qualify for historic tags, I got to skip inspection, which was a good thing because I bet it would have been another $1000 to bring it into compliance. I took care of the most pressing issue (brake pads&shoes) but otherwise let it be. $200 in taxes and plating later and we were good to go.

    It ran surprisingly well, taking me through 2 winters and an extended period when a track day incident put the S2k hard down for 3 weeks while I sourced a new transmission. It also served general utility duty, being a tailgate vehicle for our local college football team and my alma mater (Go Navy! Beat Army!), winter ski trips to the appalachians, some camping, and Home Depot runs.

    It gave up the ghost about 2 years into owhership when a brake line rusted out and popped when I was stopping at a stop sign. I limped it home, and put it on craigslist. Sold it for $500. $500 in depreciation to drive a car for 2 years pretty darn good in my book.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      I had a rear brake line go on my $400 Corolla beater. Just capped it off. Front brakes only worked fine, and I could engage the backs with the hand brake if I really needed it.

  • avatar

    The cheapest was 30 GB Pounds for a 1982 VW Jetta (4 door) with the mighty 1.5l engine. It didn’t have a speck of rust but did require weekly drinks of oil….. It was in that awful pale ‘reed’ green that seems to have been a relic from the 19070’s.

    Second cheapest was 50 GBP for a 1982 Vauxhall Cavalier 1.8 CDi, 5 door hatchback in a beautiful metallic brown & matching brown velour interior! Those cars did have a habit of rusting but were mechanically great, and quite powerful (115hp) & fast, at least when viewed through rose tinted spectacles……

  • avatar

    First Car – 1982 Datsun 200SX hatchback rustbucket, 211k miles for $450. Drove for approx. 18 months. Replaced all brake rotors & calipers, some rusty fuel line, valve cover gasket and various sundries.

    Sold for $400 with 225k miles. Found it in a local junkyard a couple months later with 229k. Snagged the “Datsun 200SX by Nissan” nameplate and 5-speed shift knob. Still have them over 20 years later.

  • avatar

    The summer after sophomore year of high school, I bought a ’94 Honda del Sol from my best friend for $250. He’d gotten it some months before and upgraded to a slightly newer, nicer ’95 model. I had it for about a year before I sold it back to his younger brother when my family’s Grand Prix became available again (my mom was student-teaching at a school across town, so she had first use of it until she bought her G6 later). It looked terrible inside and out, but it was still a ton of fun.

    Of course, there was the satisfaction of having bought it myself, but more important at the time was knowing how much my mom disapproved of it…

  • avatar

    A couple hundred dollars for a Dart with the big slant six. Probably in the late 80’s. That car was virtually indestructible. Gave it away in the mid 90’s to a friend’s college age kid.

  • avatar

    Bought a ’79 Buick Skylark coupe for $40 (forty!) bucks in 2003. It had a flat tire, and the owner just wanted it off his property.

    $40 for the car, $20 for the flat repair, and boom – the best $60 I ever spent. We gave that car as a gift to my younger brother – his first car! He drove that thing for a couple of years, and even repainted it for fun.

  • avatar

    Adding another Volvo to this list, my ’94 850 wagon for $300, bought it with a saggy headliner, full of water because of a leaky sunroof and a leaky heater core… it decimated the front end of the Sienna that rear-ended it and went on to last a whole additional month before the head gasket bit the dust..

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So based on this the real market for used Volvos are those priced under $1,000k and sold to people who are willing to put hours of time and tens of dollars into duct tape, bailing wire and questionable parts in order to keep them running for one more year. Until someone thankfully crashes into them so that the owner can get the insurance money.

  • avatar

    i had 2 cars that were the same price, my very first car i paid a 100 bucks, the guy selling was moving to toronto and couldnt find a buyer and he was out of time, he said 100 bucks and its yours kid so i bought a 75 pontiac astre unknowing at the time what pieces of crap they were lol…car taught be alot about mechanics ! second car i owned later on was a 86 mercury lynx that was a 100 bucks, girl i knew got it from her father that had passed away, only thing wrong was the clutch was toast as i guess her father only drove it to the bar every day which was a kilometer away and i guess he rode the clutch pretty pad driving home pissed. i fixed the clutch for 178 bucks (car only had 40k kms) an drove it for 6 months when a car lost control in the snow and clipped the back tail light and pushed the lynx into another car in front and broke the front headlight, insurance wrote the car off saying the price of the headlight was more than the cars worth, so i got 250 back from insurance ! only lost 28 bucks on that deal (clutch cost)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in 1978 when I was in high school I bought a 1970 Mustang coupe from a elderly couple for $300. It had the 302 C4 with factory AC and was mustard gold with a ginger interior and the optional Western vinyl roof trim package.
    It had a bit of rust and a strange knock from the engine. I adjusted the tuning until the knock went away and drove it for a while until the engine became louder. I tore the engine down and found a cracked piston skirt. Went to the junkyard and found a good short block and put it all together. I drove that car until 1986 with 220k and normal maintenance including some paint and rust repair.

    In 1976 a friend in high school bought a Renault 10 for $75. I helped him do some minor repairs on it and he installed a Pioneer cassette under the dash. Considering it was a Renault It ran quite well. He would brag about the front seats ‘They’re like a Mercedes” They were quite cozy.

  • avatar

    A 1972 Honda N600 for $500 in 1980. “Old Red” was heavily oxidized, but had no rust, and ran well. Regularly got 50mpg, 55 on one trip. Could hold a fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and a small Peavey sound system, me, and one passenger for cheap (but slow) transport to gigs.

    I’m 6′ 1″ and had more legroom in this than many larger cars. Turgid going up a mountain pass, but could maneuver like crazy on city streets. Coming home from a gig at 2am on a summer night on West Colfax some low riders decided they didn’t like my cowboy hat, started flashing knives and guns. They came after me on the straightaway, but with a Ueey and a couple corners they were left way behind. Turning radius was tiny. Also very light, so one night a bunch of drunk frat kids moved it out in the middle of the street. Woke up to banging on the door. The responding officer was very cool about it. Laughed and said I made his evening.

    I was able to buy four new Michelin 10″ radials for $80. Very easy to work on, basically a motorcycle engine, easier that a VW. Finally parts got to be expensive and I was touring out of state. Sold it after 3 years for $500, what I paid for it, and got a 1975 Ford F-150 pickup with an insulated camper shell. Comfortable to sleep in, lots of room for gear, but what a dog that 6 cylinder with a 3 on the tree was on the open road.

    Wish I still had the Honda N600 for trips downtown. Far cooler than any SmartCar and unlike a Leaf or Prius you could actually work on it yourself. Like a Japanese version of the old Minis.

  • avatar

    Still trying to recollect exactly how much my first car cost. My parents helped arrange for me to get my first car. It was a non-running car that was owned by the daughter of friends of my parents. The good thing was they knew what was wrong with the car, and the girl had already replaced it with another car. It was the fall of 1972 and the car was a 1963 Chrysler Three Hundred 2-door sedan. OK, technically, it was considered a 300 Sport, in order to distinguish it from the 1963 Chrysler 300-J, which it looked almost identical to. So, the car needed only four things fixed. The starting motor, alternator, a battery and a muffler. Once we got the car and got those items fixed it was a great daily driver. The engine was a 305-hp, 383 cubic inch big block V-8. Interestingly, a Chrysler 300 in convertible form was the Pace Car for the 1963 Indianapolis 500 race. My best guess is about $350 is what I paid for that car.

    Now, having just shared that story, I also remember getting a car for FREE! With a title and the keys. Got it from a co-worker. It had been towed to an impound lot, so while free, my only cost was the impound lot fees. And, a new battery. It was an extra car but was in fairly good shape for its age. And it ran just fine. The year was 1990, and the car was a big 1973 Chevrolet 4-door sedan. I drove the car only a few times…without ever transferring the title or any of that other stuff. Then, I made a decision to move and advertised the car FOR SALE. Was asking $200, hoping to make a few bucks. But the first caller kept trying to talk me down. Think I sold it for $160, which was about exactly what I had in it. Then I had multiple calls for the car every day for the next week, willing to pay my asking price, but had to tell them it sold to the first person. But, the deal was, didn’t want to wait until the last minute to sell it, because I didn’t have any idea how easy or hard it would be to sell.

  • avatar

    I paid $75 for my 1992 Acura Integra LS 5MT back in May 2010. I only had it for a bit (long story), then sold it to a friend for $900.

    I only collected $50 of it, then he disappeared. I tried reaching out to him via social media, but of course he ignored me.

    Karma finally caught up to him when someone stole his WRX and torched it.

  • avatar

    Next cheapest was $550 for my 1996 Ford Aerostar XLT in May of this year. I had it for 32 days when someone decided to pull out in front of myself and the car next to me, in a futile attempt to turn onto their desired street to beat us.

    Much like the Integra, I still miss that Aerostar. It was one of the nicest 200K examples that I’ve ever seen on the road (the paint looked new).

  • avatar

    1990 Ford Festiva LX 225,000 miles. $650 I put 20,000 more miles on it and sold it for what I had paid for it.

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