QOTD: Help for Noobs?

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
qotd help for noobs

We all had to start somewhere. Most of us have turned a wrench or three on a car, particularly one in which we’ve tried — with varying degrees of success — to make “better.”

I put that word in quotation marks because some of my well-intentioned wrenching sessions simply ended up making things a heckuva lot worse. Today’s question is simple: what (realistic) car would you recommend to a kid who wants to spend their time and money hopping up a vehicle?

Surely we can all agree the beautiful coupe at the top of this post is out of the cards, as any good examples have long since returned to the earth in the form of fine iron-oxide filings … at least in most parts of the country. Nevertheless, that Civic was easy to work on and owners had an abundance of aftermarket gear from which to choose.

What’s the modern equivalent? One could argue the modern Civic, as the big H never seems to go out of style with the tuner crowd. A present-day Golf wouldn’t be a bad choice either, given its measure of handling and decent availability of tuning choices.

These days, I’d recommend the FR-S/BRZ/86/whatevernameitistoday. Used examples abound, many of which have relatively low mileage thanks to a quick trade-in due to buyer’s remorse or spousal prodding or any number of reasons. Sales drones in most Toyota showrooms don’t seem to know how to sell a cool car anymore, content to sit on their heels and shovel people into beige Corollas. Both situations — new and used — are advantageous for people like us.

What would you recommend for a budding gearhead? It doesn’t need to be a new car; perhaps you think something about five years old would turn their crank. Sound off below, and be sure to tell us why.

[Image: Honda]

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2 of 65 comments
  • Gtem Gtem on Aug 27, 2018

    $10-$15k for a first car to screw around with? That’s doing it wrong. Buy something for $2-3k and learn how to fix and maintain it, then maybe get into some minor mods (audio, wheels, etc). Late 90s-early 2000s maxima would be my choice. Cheap and sturdy, the VQ30s will take anything you can throw at them and are much more fun to drive than some old 3800 powered boat (except a Grand Prix GTP, that’s a good choice too). The only thing to look out for on the Nissans is rust, but same applies to any other older Japanese or domestic choice. My beater 2000 Maxima SE was a hoot, even with an automatic. They’re light cars and steer well.

  • Brn Brn on Aug 27, 2018

    CVPI that hasn't been beat on too badly. Bulletproof (literally, bulletproof panels in the doors). Inexpensive. Not too bad to wrench. Parts are everywhere. Everyone knows how to work on them. Designed to take a beating. Bad gas mileage, but we weren't looking for that now were we?

  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.