By on September 5, 2019

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, wheel cover - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

If you’re into older cars, especially older cars most people might overlook — frankly, cars regular folks might not walk across a room for if someone offered it for free — this scenario won’t be unfamiliar.

You’re driving down a seldom-travelled street, perhaps in a seldom-travelled town, and spot something in your peripheral vision. A lightning bolt courses through your nervous system. Suddenly awake, instantly aware and ready for action, you slam on the brakes and jerk the wheel to the right, coming to rest by the roadside in a cloud of dust.

There’s an old, potentially garbage car over there, and it might be for sale.

Just such an occurrence took place this past weekend as your author struggled to find an out-of-the-way campsite out in the sticks. Things were running behind schedule, but your author’s mind wasn’t so focused on reading signs for Shady Acres or Moonlight Cove to not notice something desirable off to his right. And the object that brought 2,800 lbs of Ohio-made metal to a halt was NOT the C3 Corvette languishing on cracked pavement outside an abandoned-looking (but perhaps not totally abandoned) roadside garage/cafe.

Sorry, but I’m rarely in the mood to gaze upon a ’79 Vette, as I am no longer 12. I am, however, very apt to go apeshit over something akin to motoring Cialis: a pillarless hardtop coupe. Mmmm. Who doesn’t want to slide behind the wheel of one of those? Making this B-pillar-discarding vehicle all the more arresting was the fact it was from the 1980s…and Japanese.

What was it, you ask? Why, none other than a post-refresh second-generation Mazda 626 — a four-cylinder, rear-drive coupe of tidy proportions hailing from 1981 or ’82. Even the color was seductive.

The Mazda, looking fetching but bearing no “for sale” sign, looked like it had an owner. I hadn’t the time to stick around and find out (even if I did, concern about the owner’s stance on Castle Doctrine made loitering in a place free of witnesses an unsavory proposition); plus, your author’s funds — as well as limited parking space — made a new addition to the family just another pipe dream. Alas. One day I’ll become an adult.

While vintage Mazda enjoyment is off the table for yours truly, this scenario may have had a different outcome had any one of you been driving by.

Today, we’d like to know: Have you ever purchased a vintage/collector/just plain interesting car after seeing it on the side of the road?

[Image: ©2019 Murilee Martin/TTAC, Mazda]

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37 Comments on “QOTD: Roadside Savior?...”

  • avatar

    There’s been a clean looking 92-93 Audi 90S moldering in a neighbor’s driveway for two years, parked in front of a house that has likewise been unoccupied for the same length of time. The car is progressively looking sadder as more and more algae and dirt covers its pristine white paint… I finally asked a neighbor this week if they knew how to contact the owner.

  • avatar

    Tried to purchase a ’71-72 Datsun pickup (the 4-headlight kind) and an ’82 Datsun 200SX.

    No luck.

  • avatar

    “but I’m rarely in the mood to gaze upon a ’79 Vette”

    This is why we can’t be friends.

  • avatar

    I’ve been tempted many times, but finances and/or common sense always got in the way

  • avatar

    I did.
    84 Corvette.
    This one WAS For sale – sitting in front of my mechanic’s shop.
    Every as I drove by I looked at it.
    Surely someone would buy it.
    And it sat.
    And sat.
    Finally I inquired.
    One owner, old man downsizing, no room for it. 86,000 miles. All original.
    Test drive was fun – 4-speed.
    And it sat.
    I kept thinking about it.
    Asked my mechanic to do an inspection.
    No leaks, serpentine belt old, bent antenna.
    And it sat.
    Finally I made an offer – very low – and the owner accepted.
    The 4-speed was the turn-off. Two other people were interested but couldn’t drive a manual.
    Now it’s in my garage.
    And I don’t give a rats a$$ that its a cross-fire injection engine.

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t your transmission the weird 4+3 transmission?

      • 0 avatar

        I think a lot of those got swapped out for normal gearboxes. Can’t swap out the rattles, though. Great-handling car, but to be charitable, they weren’t exactly built like a vault.

        • 0 avatar

          I think it was a pretty normal Borg Warner T-10 4-speed with a Doug Nash overdrive unit on the output shaft that could be engaged on any gear expect first. If it stopped working you’d just have a normal 4-speed, and replacing the transmission with a non-overdrive one would mean a fully custom longer driveshaft.

        • 0 avatar

          True – handles great.
          But yeah – it has more than its share of squeaks and rattles – but it is 35 years old now.
          Went through the interior and tightened everything that was loose. Not sure if that helped – but it made me feel better that I tried.

      • 0 avatar

        It is – and it works!
        As a matter of fact everything works – A/C windows, seats, radio.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Good for you, Cap’n! C4 values are not going any lower – if you want one, now’s the time. I saw a low-mileage minty ’89 for $8900 recently and have been trying to resist calling on it.

      Cross-fire injection was just a pair of Holley TBI units working in tandem, right? How bad could that be?

      Hopefully you don’t live in pothole country. I do remember those ’84s rode ROUGH.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks Mr. Foley!
        So – this one was for sale for $4500.
        As I said one owner, 86,000 miles – everything works.
        Last year owner had put in a new rack and pinion steering unit.
        Only put about 100 miles on it since then.
        It has it’s fair share of blemishes – both inside and out – but mechanically very sound.
        I offered $2000 – counter offer was $2500.
        Settled at $2250.
        I think it was a pretty good deal.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure I’d describe the pictured car as a second generation Mazda 626. It is a second generation Mazda Capella coupe, but the first generation of Capella was never called a 626. From a US standpoint, the rear drive 626 was a first generation car.

    Back to the question at hand: No no no, I do not want to try to rescue an old car. Every once in a while I get the idea that I’d want an old car, I get up close to one and that immediately disabuses me of the idea.

    I have no space for one anyway.

  • avatar

    I bought a 1976 Fiat 124 Spider which was parked at the side of a street in my former home town (Kiel/Germany). That was in 1997, I think. Incidentally I got the phone number of the owner and he agreed to sell it. It was rust free since it was a re-import from Arizona. I got original seats with Mercedes leather for it, new Bilstein coils and a 2 liter-engine to replace the original 1.8 which was horrible.

    It was a really nice car. Unfortunately I had to sell it in 2006.

  • avatar

    Had a similar thing happen earlier this Summer. On my commute it suddenly appeared in the yard of one of the houses I passed every day – an 83 Shelby Charger (blue on silver, non-original wheels, some minor oxidation where the clear coat was missing). I owned an 84 and really enjoyed driving the car. I had always told myself (years back) that if I found another in good shape I would be sorely tempted to buy it. The thought ran through my mind every day I passed by. Thought about pulling in and asking about it, but never did. A friend came across it in a listing at the Facebook marketplace and forwarded the link to me.

    The listing stated someone was coming to look at it on a specific date, but if anyone was interested it would be available at least until that happened. I rolled it over in my mind and clarity of thought manifested itself. The car would be difficult to repair at this point due to age alone. Since I had experience with the 84 I knew about the issues I would face with the shift linkage – a metal bar with nylon end caps that “snap fit” two ball ends connecting the interior to the tranny that fit snugly for around 70k miles then would fail. The replacing of which was a pita – not impossible, just frustrating. That along with door handle issues and others came to mind. I passed. I was, nonetheless, somewhat disappointed when it disappeared on the date mentioned in the listing. In a more perfect – and younger – world I would have bought it without thinking so much.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    1976, every day driving to work drove past a car lot with an eclectic mix.

    Then one morning, there it was a white on white 1959 Eldorado Biarritz convertible. One of just over 1,300 made. The most beautiful of all American made cars.

    I made a U-turn in morning rush hour traffic. Rushed in to look. It had plates from the Southern USA on the front seat.

    Talked to the lot owner. It had just arrived the previous day. Driven up from the southern states. A one owner car with full documentation. Always dealer serviced.

    Took it out for a drive with the lot owner. Cut a deal there and then. Arranged to pick it up the next day. Came back in the afternoon to complete and sign the rest of the paperwork and provide a certified cheque.

    Arrived the following day and there was someone else in the office. He had also tried to buy the Caddy. We talked and he ‘convinced’ me to let him have it.

    Took the profit and used it to acquire a new Corvette (Stingray) L82.

    Today the Corvette is probably worth what I paid for it. Similar Eldorados have been appraised and/or sold at nearly 30 times what I paid.

  • avatar

    Almost bought a 1982 Cressida – a remarkable survivor with few actual needs to make first-rate. Saw it in a restaurant parking lot and it was indeed for sale. Saw it, test drove it, all impressive and easily afffordable. But reality sank in – I don’t have the time, don’t have the space, have too many demands on any discretionary dollars to spend the few thousands (ultimately) it would take to take it from hooptie to classic…

  • avatar

    Post-refresh 626 coupe? Heck, I’m okay with the pre-refresh ’79 model. I loved it when it first launched. Mazda had *two* cars I wanted – the RX-7 and the 626 coupe.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t have given that thing a second look… and I like coupes.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I try to buy every B13 Sentra Coupe I see that doesn’t look like someone drove it a million miles in Iraq and then tossed a hand grenade into the interior. That doesn’t leave many options however. I really want an SE-R but given how those look when they turn up I think it’ll be easier to just build my own.

    Other notable crapboxes for which I stop: 1991-94 Saturns, First gen Ford Rangers that don’t look like a building fell on them, 1985-1993ish Ford Thunderbirds, and Ford Probes.

  • avatar

    Yeah back in the day when I always had a car that I was fixing up to sell at a profit after driving it for a while I bought a few cars sitting on the side of the road with a for sale sign in them. I also bought a few that were sitting there w/o a sign.

    The one that got away was a 69 Buick Electra coupe. It had sat in a guys yard for a long time just a couple of blocks from my house. I had sold another project and was on the prowl so I knocked on the door. The owner said it needed a starter and yeah he’d sell it for $50. Unfortunately I was leaving town for the weekend the next day and told him I’d be back to buy it next week. Got back and drove by on my way home to see a dead spot in the grass where the Buick had been.

    In retrospect I’m guessing that my inquiry made the owner realize that someone might want to buy it and he put a sign in the window which got someone else to pull over and take it home.

  • avatar

    When I moved into my new house a few months ago, I noticed a treasure trove of non-running stuff belonging to a house down the street – an early ’70s Bug, a late ’70s Lincoln Versailles, what appears to be a ’60 Chrysler Saratoga, and (ROCK STAR ALERT) a first-gen, US-spec Rabbit GTI.

    (Apparently the HOA in my neighborhood isn’t very militant – in addition to the non-running cars, there’s a whole backyard full of s**t. I’m sure this guy’s next-door neighbors just love him.)

    One Saturday morning, while I was taking a walk, I decided to go over there and see if the owner would tell me a little something about all these treasures (particularly the GTI, which was my college-age dream car). Unfortunately, the owner threw off a serious Crazy Cat Lady / Deliverance vibe, so I waved off. Shame – I’d love to hear about their little collection.

  • avatar

    Aren’t we all just looking for that obscene phallic symbol on wheels? Just me and Vulpine??

    So I kept driving past this stretched limo For Sale like I’d never seen before, sitting on a lot. I figured it was way out of my price range, so I tried to ignore it. Then when driving by with a friend, he had to have a closer look.

    It was built on a ’91 F-350 dually crew cab 4X4 Lariat gas big block, otherwise all original. It was amazing in/out, 50K original miles, inside stored, but with minor body damage. The price was very fair, no more a normal old dually in that condition.

    We’ve taken it to a few places and people go nuts for it, taking pics, posing next to it and whatnot. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, I rarely get a chance to take it out, but it does make me smile thinking about it.

  • avatar

    Early 2000s, bought a longhood 911 that was sitting in a feed lot.

  • avatar

    Not “side of the road,” but a few “eBay” and auction spur-of-the-moment purchases:
    1) 1982 BMW 320i (bought at auction). “Honey, I’m here at the auction and looking at this cool old BMW!” Drive it for a year, then sold it for exactly what I had in it.
    2) 1978 Plymouth Arrow (eBay). Attempted to relive my teenage years, bought an AT equipped base Arrow. Loved it until the transmission gave out and had no place to store it, so I sold it…sadly.
    3) 1970 BMW 2000. Basket of bolts when it was delivered. Good friend bought if off of me with the anticipation of restoring it. Yeah, that never happened.

    Closest to “side of the road” was when my wife spotted a first-gen Chrysler/Dodge minivan owned by an elderly couple in our neighborhood years ago. On a whim, we bought it. Great beater car that was nearly mint (damning with faint praise?) and served us well for the time we had it.

    I’ll stop for just about any manual transmission-equipped 80s vehicle in decent shape (exotics not included). I’m enamored with well-preserved daily drivers that I like to call “Cheapseat Classics.” I’ll pass on a 911, but find me something like a straight Rabbit, or Celica, or early 200SX…whatever…I also find myself looking at eBay a lot for the same type of vehicles.

    Oh, and I love that gen 626!

  • avatar

    My neighbour has been selling off the collection of vehicles in his driveway. He had a diesel Toyota Landcruiser but wanted way too much for it. He sold his Miata for a decent price. His old Chevy pickup was sold for parts. All he has left is a VW microbus and Jeep CJ. He’s keeping the VeeDub and right now is asking a bit too much for the Jeep. The Jeep would be a fun toy to share with my 2 teenage sons.

    • 0 avatar

      My neighborhood has all kinds of fun old cars. On my street, there’s an ’85 Prelude that looks fairly straight but needs paint, and the guy across from him has a Pinzgauer. Lots of older, well kept trucks as well, including a really nice late ’80s Chevy stepside that looks to have its’ original paint.

      Plus, there’s the non-running O.G. GTI (see above) that just breaks my heart every time I see it. God, do I want to take that thing home from the hoarder house and bring it back to life.

      I just moved to this part of town. The neighborhood I came from was boring as all hell when it came to cars – all new SUVS and four-door pickups. Apparently, my new neck of the woods is Old Project Car Central for the Denver metro area or something. It’s a bit more blue collar. I like it.

      • 0 avatar

        @FreedMike – my neighbour is like an old farmer. He has kept every vehicle he has owned in the 26 years I’ve know him. He’s retired now and has decided that travelling with his girlfriend is more fun than a fleet of vehicles. I can’t say I blame him.
        I had several buddies that were always wheeling and dealing on stuff. Until I got married one of my friends routinely used my large yard as a halfway point for stuff. It was entertaining to see the stuff that rolled through.

  • avatar

    I spotted a 1967 4dr. Lincoln Continental convertible outside Reno on a trip to Disneyland when I was 16. We stopped and talked to the “owner” only to find out that the car had been left on the side of the road and he didn’t have a title. I have wished MANY TIMES that I had jumped through whatever hoops was needed to obtain that car!!

  • avatar

    The very first car I ever bought when I was 17. Driving past a farm house, I see this red coupe with a black top – 1st gen Firebird with a 350 hood. Turned out to be a 1968. Rust in the rear quarters, small dent in the passenger front quarter. Good interior with that musty GM coolant smell that I got to know very well.

    I stop by with my friend who “knew more about cars” and negotiate with the owner: a 20-something. Talked him down from $800 to $680.

    I only had $300 in the bank! But luckily I managed to convince my dad to let me borrow the rest. A debt that took a long time to pay back. That car was a big ol’ money pit and the gas for it alone sucked all of my minimum wage job paycheck away. I had a long list of mods I wanted to do to it; and restoration. But it never happened due to my lack of funds. So sadly I ended up selling it to some guy who had just got out of prison – that was an uncomfortable test drive! And went back to borrowing my mom’s truck.

    Anyways – I used to see my old car around, being a small town I even knew where the owner lived. Then I went off to college. When I got my first job with real income, I actually tried to hunt that Firebird down but the owner had moved away and the car was gone; and so was my dream of restoring it.

  • avatar

    ? Have I ever ? .

    Oh, _God_ yes ~ too many to recount them all .

    Most made it back to the street with current tags & title plus everything working as it should before I sold them on .


  • avatar

    Yes! An immaculate 1966 Plymouth Sport Fury..I walked over from the shop next door to admire it, and discovered that it was for sale. The owner apparently was in need of immediate cash, because I got it for far less than his asking price (which left me with $5!) as I had rounded up all the cash I could beg/borrow on short notice! :-)

    • 0 avatar


      I know a guy in Lebec, Ca. who has a 1966 Plymouth two door Fury for sale, it’s complete and original, runs O.K., driver quality, I have no idea what he wants for it .

      Contact me off list for the particulars, the powers that be here have my contact info .


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