By on September 17, 2019

1987 Shelby CSX (P), Image: Shelby AutomobilesIn the recent Shelby CSX Rare Rides entry, long-term commenter 28-Cars-Later suggested some sporty competitors to the Shelby, all of which cost the same according to the state of Michigan. Japan, Germany, and America are well-represented in today’s trio.

Which one sets your sporty-small-car heart aflame in ’88?

Volkswagen GTI

Volkswagen had a hot hatch hit on its hands with the original GTI, following it up with a second generation in 1985. Between 1985 and 1987, a lower-powered 1.8-liter GTI produced 110 horsepower. VW introduced a more powerful 16-valve version in 1987 that carried GTI through 1992. With lots of valves, the new 1.8 produced 137 Germanic horsepowers. Only the three-door hatch was available, and all 16 valves paired with a five-speed manual.

Toyota Celica

The Celica entered its fourth generation in 1986, donning front-drive as it moved further away from its former relationship with the Supra. The three base trims — ST, GT, and GT-S — were topped by a much more expensive Turbo All-Trac model that featured four-wheel drive. Competing today is the GT, in five-speed liftback guise. GT focused on additional power equipment over the base ST. From 1987 onward, the 3S-FE powered the GT. A 2.0-liter mill with 16 valves, it made 152 horsepower.

Shelby CSX

Produced only for the 1987 model year, we’ll assume there were some CSX examples left over in 1988. A product of the Shelby Automobiles company in California, the CSX started out as the sportiest Dodge Shadow turbo, then received additional modifications outside and underneath. The 2.2-liter Turbo II produced a trio-topping 175 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, routed through a five-speed manual. Not for those fond of choice, all 750 examples were painted in the color scheme shown here.

Liftback, hatchback, two-door sedan (with a liftback). Three continents; one price point. Where do their fates lie?

[Images: VW, Toyota, Shelby, seller]

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53 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: The $13,000 Sporty Car Question of 1988...”

  • avatar

    COME ON! At least make it a challenge!
    DRIVE the Shelby-
    BUY……… another Shelby to keep miles off the one you drive
    BURN the rest, especially the weaksauce and troublesome German one.

    (yes I owned several varieties of those Dodge and Shelby turbos, and they were so much fun)

  • avatar

    Buy the Toyota. I still love the look of those things today.
    Drive the GTI.
    Burn the Shelby. No matter the upgrades, it’s still an 80’s Dodge underneath. No thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      As the former owner of both a Mk II Golf and Jetta, I’ll take the Dodge from a reliability standpoint any day of the week.

      • 0 avatar

        I think, since Dodge/Shelby and GTI will self-destroy anyways, you don’t have much choice here what to buy and drive

        • 0 avatar

          The 2.2l was pretty bulletproof and the 5 speed was pretty reliable. Most Mopar interiors held up pretty well in that era as well.

          • 0 avatar

            @ Flipper35: I would agree with you. I had an 84 Shelby Charger with the 2.2 and I drove that to 405K miles. The engine only used a quart of oil in about 2000 miles which is the interval I changed at and was still getting around 35 mpg. By that many miles the interior plastic was getting fairly brittle, but I would have been surprised if it hadn’t with all the UV and years passed.

  • avatar

    Buy the Shelby. Not even close, wins it for me in a 2 second knockout.

    Drive the Celica. Not my favorite gen, but I like the look and it should be fun enough.

    Burn the GTI. VW and Honda choices are always going to have an uphill battle with me.

  • avatar

    Hah! I’ve been using the State of Michigan website as a resource for post-1983 MSRPs for 15 years. It’s fine time other journalists caught on!

  • avatar

    Those are European VW horsepower numbers. The 1988 GTI 16V in US trim was rated at 123 hp. I seriously doubt there was a 152 hp naturally aspirated Celica in 1988 too.

    Buy Celica
    Drive GTI
    Burn Shelby before it can burn you.

  • avatar

    I’ll of course buy the Toyota
    But I’ll drive the Shelby
    Burn the GTI, despite the fact it was assembled in West Germany (West Germany is BEST Germany).

    • 0 avatar

      I take it you would not fancy the Wartburg.

      • 0 avatar

        Wartburg 1.3 vs Trabant: you make the call.

        Looks a little Volvo 200ish from the back.

        Look a pickup:

    • 0 avatar

      The US didn’t receive any MKII Golfs from West Germany. They were made by the UAW until production moved to Puebla, Mexico. The MKII Jettas were still being made in West Germany in 1988 though, and they were the way to go back then. They were still VW-level unreliable, but they drove better than Toyotas back then.

      • 0 avatar

        Westmoreland, PA was UAW? Didn’t know that. I wonder if that was part of the problem there?

        • 0 avatar

          There is probably no correlation between VW’s UAW-organized transplant failing while Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and BMW’s non-union plants have survived for decades. And if you believe that you’ll vote for the party that wants to give free healthcare to illegals while fining American citizens who can’t afford their own.

  • avatar

    Drive the GTI

    Buy the Shelby (for backup when the GTI is inoperable)

    Burn the Toyota to watch the fanboys cry.

  • avatar

    Buy the Toyota. Love the Toyota. Try not to drive at night so you won’t wear out your pop up headlights.

    Drive the Dodge, that’s alot of power! only once or twice to not be responsible for any issues.

    Burn the vdub, nobody wants to pay for your maintenance either.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I bought an ’85 Celica new when I started my first real job out of college. I also liked the Honda Prelude, but dealers were putting mark ups on them at the time, so I went with the Toyota.

    In hindsight, I should have bought a Supra. My salary increased quite a bit the first few years, so I could have afforded the extra payment. Instead, I bought an engagement ring. We won’t discuss how that worked out.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Buy the Shelby, but only if it’s mint and you intend to sell it at Mecum or B-J to some sucker who doesn’t realize it’s a K-car.
    Otherwise, buy the Toyota because Toyota.
    Drive the VW because VW.
    And burn the Chrysler because Chrysler.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Buy the Celica. Drive the GTI. Burn the Shelby CSX.

  • avatar

    Buy the Shelby. Decent, clean looks, and they didn’t make a lot of the CSXs.
    Drive the GTI. May not have a lot of power, but probably the best handler of these three.
    Burn the Celica. FWD, and the looks just don’t do it for me. Sure it’s the most reliable, but you don’t buy a 30 year old sports coupe for reliability.

  • avatar

    Burn them all. Yikes would pay that when the Mustang GT and IROCz were the in the same price range? It’s the same for the base MR2 and Fiero Formula.

    Yeah I was looking around in ’88 and bought new Mustang LX 5.0 coupe/notch (manual, A/C, crank windows) that stickered under 11K.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Celica- It’s a modern reliable Lancia Beta.

    Drive: Shelby CSX- It’s unique even with its K-car lineage and butter churn like shifter.

    Burn: GTI- Unimpressive with VW’s lack of reliability.

    Honorable mention: Honda Prelude Si.

  • avatar

    Buy the Toyota. If you live in a rust-free place (as I do) this was a good Toyota era. Though I would have found a way to scrape together a few extra pennies to make it a GT-S.

    Drive the Shelby. Rattletrap piece of junk but the power would be fun for a short drive.

    Burn the slow-ass VW (with the anguished cries of dubbers as a bonus soundtrack). Toyota didn’t feel the need to trumpet to everyone with big red badges that it had finally figured out how to make a four-valve head, and yet it got 15 more horsepower out of its version.

  • avatar

    Buy VW GTI
    Drive Shelby
    Burn Celica

    I’m sure the Celica would be incredibly reliable, but that’s way too boring.

    I’m not a big fan of VW, but I absolutely love that era of GTI.
    I liked those Mopar hot hatches when they were out and about.

  • avatar

    Buy: Celica, the logical choice

    Drive: Shelby, has a level of cool the other two can only dream of and is by far the most 80’s.

    Burn: GTI, if only so I didn’t have to listen to people telling me how the American version has so much less power than the real Euro version

  • avatar

    Buy the Celica
    Burn the GTI
    Drive the Shelby

  • avatar

    Buy the Shelby(As Investment)
    Drive The Toyo(Daily)
    Burn The GTI

  • avatar

    I had an ’87 GTI. Mine was the 8 valve version, I drove a Scirocco with the 16 valve engine, it made all its power up in the rev range, which wasn’t that useful. I had it for five years and it gave me very good service. I didn’t like the steering wheel very much, so I got a Momo Mario Andretti wheel which looked very much in place.

    it was lots of fun to drive and very versatile. One week you could do a track day, and the next load it up with sailboards and friends and go to the beach.

    Out of all the cars I’ve owned over the years I would say it was overall the most satisfying car I’ve owned.

    I’m curious who else here has driven any of these three cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I had an unusually strong 8-valve Jetta. I knew many people with MK2 Jettas, and mine was the envy of every other VW driver who rode in it or drove it. I sorted out the chassis, but I have no recollection of why it was faster than any similar car. It did have fresh engine mounts, heater core, and A/C compressor due to VW quality. Otherwise I guess it was just down to production variances from an automaker for whom close enough was a way of life. When my girlfriend totaled my Jetta, I looked at a GTI 16V as a possible replacement. The Pennsylvania GTI rattled more than my German Jetta and had a visibly lower quality interior. The engine gave up a bit down low and seemed to just be making it back when it hit redline. I wound up with a 35K mile Audi 4000S quattro instead.

      I didn’t drive this exact Shelby Shadow, but I drove other Dodge turbos. They were agricultural compared to the VWs. They could definitely cover some ground with gas-struts and Eagle VRs, but they didn’t exhibit any finesse and they did throw fan belts and blow head gaskets.

      I had the least experience with Celicas similar to this one. I wasn’t very interested in them at the time, and a quick drive did nothing to change that. I didn’t come to appreciate Toyotas until I’d been stuck with them and abused the hell out of them only to discover that they were far sturdier than anything else.

  • avatar

    Wow. This is a harder one.

    Buy the Shelby – exclusive, I adore hatchbacks, the Chrysler turbo 4s were about the best of the era, and the issues that cropped up had solutions applied.

    Drive the GTI – VW from the 80s had some of the best FWD handling vehicles you could buy.

    Burn the Celica – this wasn’t an easy choice, a lot of value for the money. However, this is the first year of the FWD Celica and I am just a lot more fond of the prior generation. I never liked the “looks” of this Celica.

  • avatar

    Buy the Shelby, not even a contest. It looks cool, has the most muscle under the hood, it’s easily upgradable, and should you want to sell, it’s going to have lasting desirability.

    Burning either of the remaining cars is a losing proposition. VWs sketchy reliability, and the Celica being a downgrade from the previous RWD platform and a bit sterile duly noted. The world definitely needs more affordable fun cars, and one HELLUVA lot less in the way of craptacular CUVs and boring pointless sedans. In keeping with the rules I’d reluctantly set fire to the Celica since better versions exist before and after this one.

  • avatar

    Burn any car that’s described as ‘sporty,” one of those ad words that means nothing.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the post, Corey.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Sooo, can I do a 36 month lease on one and then get a B-13 SE-R when the lease ends in 1991? None of these do it for me.

  • avatar

    Buy the Shelby (I’d drive it, Rope-a-Dope shifter and all)
    Drive the Celica while looking for an Integra or Prelude.
    Torch that Rabbit before it torches me.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yes, if one could put off purchasing for 2 or 3 years sport compacts were just about to enter their golden era and frankly I’d hate to be saddled with years of remaining payments on any of these when the SE-R’s, Integras, and golden era civic entered the fray. I’d prefer even a Probe GT over these.

  • avatar

    The Dodge is pretty cool looking compared to the other two . . . and my 1988 self would have appreciated that, plus I grew up in Idaho so “Buy American!” had an impact on me. A few years later I wouldn’t be so swayed and bought an Acura.

  • avatar

    None of the these 1988 offerings floated my boat at all. I drove the current Prelude and seriously wondered what the fuss was about. A pussycat of a non-car for me. Not a sporting bone in its body, and a whole 120 hp or thereabouts.

    The 1988 Mazda 626 GT with a turbo rated at a low 145hp at 4300 rpm was better than these choices by a country mile. C/D used to chortle at the ridiculously low power rating – my test drive went wonderfully. That beast was quick! And not made of second rate tin like a Shelby. I tried to trade in my Audi 5000 turbo on one, but the unintended acceleration BS was in full sway, so no deal could I reach.

    It’s 31 years ago, and most posters here really don’t remember much detail from what I’m reading, or are too young to have been in the market then so are guessing. The Celica AllTrac was as rare as hens teeth, so strike that one off the list.

    In 1990, I got me an Eagle Talon TSi turbo AWD, after finding the new Nissan 300 ZX in normally aspirated form completely underwhelming. That Talon made an original Audi quattro I tried and was considering seem like it had lead for a back seat.

    So I nominate Mazda 626GT turbo for the 1988 win. Cheap enough.

    • 0 avatar

      Here you go, probably the nicest ’88 626 GT Turbo you’ll ever find. And it’s a manual:

  • avatar

    Buy/Drive the Shelby – I’ve had a non turbo Shelby Charger and driven the intercooled GLHS’s – fun cars to drive.

    Since I have no preference on the other two, I’d buy them to drive occasionally.

    No burn, no way.

  • avatar

    I don’t get the write ups for all these old crappy cars. Not of interest !

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