By on January 23, 2020

Today’s question was not, in fact, sparked by your author’s recent visit to a decent but not terribly impressive half-price buffet, but by — go figure — a Bring a Trailer listing.

The model depicted was one of those things we didn’t think would ever return… until it did: a Jeep pickup, this one of the Comanche variety. The 4×4 straight-six ’87 model made yours truly wistful, as it was one of those vehicles that got away.

Sometimes when car-buying time comes around, the circumstances of your life dictate a more interesting than usual pool of choices. This was one of those times.

They’re low-rent choices, but never mind that.

As I’ve mentioned this story before, I’ll try not to bore you with needless detail. Still in university, and with my daily driver totalled by a geriatric Impala driver, I seriously considered three replacements. Practicality wasn’t the deciding factor here; low cost and amusement was.

The first candidate was a Comanche just like the one in the listing. Alas, underbody rust had taken hold in a big way. Too bad. The second, an ’85 Volvo 240, was similarly infected with the Brown Beast, and that disappointment was perhaps even greater than the first. So, it was left to a pristine ’89 Prelude Si to ferry me through part of the early 2000s.


Truly, being in one’s early 20s is something you don’t appreciate until it’s too late. After that, pure economic practicality took over. For others, a growing family kicks them out of their G37 coupe or whatever and into a never-ending procession of crossovers.

Depending on your age, responsibilities, cash flow, and a number of other variables, one car purchase in your life will bring together more diverse and interesting candidates than any other. Maybe it was as a teenager, maybe it was after retirement. Whenever it was, we’d like to hear about it.

What did this eclectic pool of runners-up look like, and what did you ultimately bring home?

[Images: Volvo, Honda]

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28 Comments on “QOTD: Your Best Buffet?...”

  • avatar

    Prelude and 244, come home to daddy.

  • avatar

    It’s not the cars I didn’t bring home it was the perfectly good cars I let go of because I thought I deserved something better. I had a perfectly wonderful ’69 Riviera with all the bells and whistles, but being all of 19 I thought I deserved something much cooler, so I sold my perfectly wonderful Riviera and brought home a big block 1971 Corvette Stingray. My life and the car proceeded to systematically unravel.

    I learned a lot that year about cars, choices, finances and birds in the hand. Lifelong lessons that I draw from until this very day

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    My last purchase was like this. My ’07 Rabbit 5-speed was hit by a deer (the deer was speeding) and totaled because the headlight attachment points were snapped off the core support. The car still drove perfectly, and I was able to re-attach the headlight and button down all the loose trim. Since it was 10 years old, I got to keep it, and sell it, on top of the check from State Farm.
    I am definitely a manual-trans driver, but both the Rabbit and my previous Maxima were manuals and my work commute is not always manual-friendly. So I was open to automatics but wanted to keep the price under what State Farm paid me.
    I am also naturally adverse to DOHC engines with more than 100k. Without a receipt for timing drive/water pump replacement, I’m not touching it. This lead me to research the most reliable engines and the good ol’ Buick 3800 stood out. I was initially skeptical of the cars available with this engine, but after a few test drives of NA and Supercharged 3800s I changed my mind.
    I ended up with an almost-fully-loaded ’04 LeSabre Limited, 104k for $3,150, in not quite perfect cosmetic condition but with a massive folder full of receipts. The owner was in her 90’s and no longer able to drive, but she took that Buick to either the dealer or a local well-regarded Firestone shop for everything. All of the “problem” items had been addressed, the fluids were changed religiously, and it drove much better than expected- definitely not a ’74 LeSabre, not even close.
    It’s a pretty big swing between a Rabbit/Golf and a LeSabre, but with lanky teenagers I needed a real back seat. The MPGs are surprisingly about the same (the LeSabre actually beats the Rabbit on the highway) and I am now spoiled by the extreme quietness (every other car has way too much tire roar).
    3 years on, I’m pushing 200k and while I have replaced parts, it has never failed to start or drive. I’m now convinced that even though the LeSabre has absolutely no style or sportiness, it’s a better real-world car than almost anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @Mike, pretty sure that you are going to get a lot of ‘Amens’ here. There are many of us who regard a 3800 Buick as pretty much the perfect pre-owned vehicle to purchase as a daily driver.

    • 0 avatar

      Hallelujah and Amen from the Church of 3800.

      I own a ’03 LeSabre, Mike, and I’m with you 100%. It needs stuff fixed from time to time, but it has about 140,000 miles and it’s a cockroach.

      My oldest kid drove it for a few years, and when my younger kid starts, it’ll be ready for her. Biggest repair in almost 10 years of ownership was the inevitable head gasket replacement, which set me back about $800, and I think it’ll need a new power steering pump pretty soon (it’s making a whining noise, but since it’s not driven daily anymore, I’m putting this off). Aside from that, it’s pretty much been wear-related stuff and maintenance. It starts, it goes, and it’s dirt cheap to insure.

      Until the transmission goes blooey, or something else catastrophic goes wrong, it’s going to be in my driveway.

  • avatar

    In college I badly wanted a TR6. They looked and sounded like a proper car should (I was driving a dying rusty ’61 Scout borrowed from my father, top speed about 50 mph and all the excitement of a broom). Couldn’t afford a TR6 but a ’71 MG Midget came up for sale by one of the locals, almost affordable. This provoked my parents to offer me their 40k mile VW for the same money – larger, safer, more practical, and achieveable without argument. So that’s what I bought. Turned out that I came to love that VW – could stuff my friends and band equipment into that car, something unthinkable in a Midget. I saw the Midget a few times afterwards but didn’t really miss it. Kept the VW until ’84 when it finally died of rust and transmission failure – replaced it with a Gen I GTI, scratched all those itches but it wasn’t the First.

  • avatar

    I had a string of 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s jalopies in my teens and twenties, I still prefer driving them to modern cars when I can .


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As posted before, in the mid 1970’s I purchased a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. White on white. Previously only one owner. California plates/registration.

    Paid considerably under 5 figures, Canadian.

    Signed all the documents so that it ‘was mine’ but left it on the dealer’s lot overnight.

    When I went back to pick it up the next day, there was someone waiting for me. Offered to buy it off me, for cash, then and there.

    I pocketed a ‘nice’ profit. Used that money to purchase a new Corvette Stingray L82. Kept the ‘Vette for less than a year. Made a slight profit on it on paper but not if you include the ‘improvements’ that I put into it. And the increased insurance after having my license temporarily suspended. If it is still on the road it is probably worth about what I paid for it.

    Meanwhile Hagertys has a 1959 Eldorado Biarritz convertible up for $324,000 USD.

    Sothebys sold one in 2016 for $390,500 USD.

    • 0 avatar

      Good story, Arthur, that ’59 Eldo was quite the car :)

    • 0 avatar

      Hard to ignore cash in hand. In the late 90’s I was in college in a small town. Walked into the jewelry store to check out the Rolexes and low and behold they had a stainless steel Daytona, which was rare even in those days. I pulled the trigger with a credit card and then freaked out a week later about the bill and sold it for an $800 profit, which was pretty good money for a broke college student who had a high credit limit but very little cash to back it up.

      Now, this watch routinely changes hands for $20,000+ and I wish I had it back because I would actually keep it now. Things have certainly changed, as there are now numerous hard-to-get Rolex models and the small town Rolex dealer is a thing of the past as well, because Rolex can’t keep them stocked.

  • avatar
    Jeffrey Miller

    I’m 42 and surprisingly, my most recent purchase brought the most diverse array of candidates. I wanted new, but I had a few features that were “must haves” Because I also wanted to keep my monthly payment below $400, that limited my options for new vehicles. Back in 2013, I had a Fusion Titanium that I loved. So something like that was always in the back of my mind. I went through the following cars in order before settling on…A Certified Pre-Owned Lincoln MKZ Reserve.
    Kia Forte GT2
    Mazda3 Premium
    Kia Niro
    Certified Kia Optima SXL
    Why did I choose the Lincoln? Because at $20,000 for a 3 year old car with 40k miles on it and all the bells and whistles was a steal. Plus I sit in A LOT of traffic on my Tampa, FL commute. I realized I wanted a quiet comfortable cruiser with a killer sound system to shuttle me back and forth to work. When I live somewhere with less traffic and windy, hilly roads, I might choose something more sporty and nimble. But for now, comfort is king.

  • avatar

    In something of an odd twist of fate, I ended up owning all three of my buffet vehicles one after the other.

    At the time, I was back and forth between Ireland and England during my University career. Finding something that could deal with getting both me and my possessions onto a ferry six times a year became increasingly necessary as we had to clean our rooms out between terms.

    The shortlist ended up as follows: early Range Rover, Lada Niva, Fiat Panda 4×4. I’d decided that 4WD was a necessity as it was increasingly looking as though I’d be working in a fairly Northern part of Scotland once I’d finished my studies, and snow would be a consideration.

    Started off with a 1974 Range Rover. Ex-farm vehicle, 4-speed gearbox, and 9mpg. It was the latter item that rather quickly ended up putting it outside of my capability to afford being able to drive it, so it was sold on after a few weeks of not wanting to get rid of it, but knowing that I really had no choice.

    It was replaced with a 1987 Lada Niva Cossack. What a fantastic machine – slow, basic, noisy, and very, very good at what it did. Still hold a tremendous amount of respect for them to this day. Not entirely certain as to why I thought I needed to sell it: it was surprisingly reliable, and did what I required quite well. Fuel economy wasn’t the greatest, but was liveable. Still, not a bad tradeoff for its ability in the dirt.

    The 1987 Fiat Panda 4×4 Sisley (in a really good shade of blue) was its replacement. It did nearly everything the Niva did, but with a tad less cargo capacity and much improved fuel economy. Really loved that car, and, despite its lack of a low range compared to the other two, it could get in and out of some surprisingly tough places.

    The Panda ended up being sold on shortly before I finished work in Scotland and headed home: I’d discovered that because it was never officially sold on the Irish market, Fiat would not let me order parts for it. This would have meant either having parts shipped in from the UK (expensive) or driving up to Northern Ireland to buy them and bring them back (not any better). Reluctantly, I let it go.

    That one was replaced with a Subaru MV (aka Brat or Brumby) pick-up that started an obsession for those vehicles, but that’s a story for a different time.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s fascinating! An old Land Rover in Scotland? So, you had a Barbour coat, of course? And a fine tweed jacket? And a pipe? And a fine dog?

  • avatar

    I would prefer to be in a polyamorous automotive relationship but my bank account means that I am mostly entertaining those other models in my fertile imagination.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    When I came back from Okinawa in 2008, I decided I wanted a large sedan. The G8 was the new hotness but I didn’t want to buy brand new so the car I set my sights on was the Bonneville GXP. At the time, however, they were still fairly new and most decent examples were still above the $10K mark. I just wasn’t sure.

    I considered the Cadillac STS, SLS and, for a while the Eldorado. I also thought about Buicks but I always returned to the Bonneville. I was still playing the idea when I read a review that said “Bonneville buyers love technology. A pilot would be well at home behind the wheel of this car with its X number of buttons.” I forget how many buttons there were exactly but it was insane and I asked myself, do I really want all that?

    Simpler, I decided was better. I had rented a 300M a couple of years before and I liked the style. It was big, nice enough on the inside and didn’t have a bazillion buttons. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it and the rest is history. Overall I had a great experience. I still think they are one of the best looking cars ever.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      I love the 2000-2005 Bonnie (same H-body as the LeSabre) because at least it LOOKS sporty and young(er). But finding a good one used is quite difficult- most were bought new by younger folks who were still working and they racked up a ton of miles. They also didn’t have that senior-citizen over-maintain thing that pays off big for the second owner.
      Glad you passed on the Caddies- that engine scares me to death.

  • avatar

    I loved my ’89 Prelude Si, it was school bus yellow with a sunroof and fog lights. I wish I still had it since its now becoming a modern classic from when Honda was at the top of its game.

    I am luck to never really have to debate between a large selection of vehicles. Mainly because its just me and the wife with no kids or pets. Plus I’m pretty decisive and for the last decade we have kept a three vehicle rotation. So there is no pressure to purchase something specific. I just keep a truck around to tow my boat and the other vehicles totally flexible. Currently its a C7 and Q60.

  • avatar

    Other than the times I was specifically looking for an exact vehicle, which has happened with Miatas, a Suburban or three, a Sienna, couple Lexus LS’s, every single purchase was from amongst a total hodge-podge of possibilities. Often stuff that no sane human would ever cross-shop.

  • avatar

    1969. First car I purchased myself. Final choices were Datsun 2000 roadster, Sunbeam Alpine or BMW 2002. I chose the BMW 2002 which started my love affair with low powered but nimble cars.

  • avatar

    In 2003 the wife and I were thinking we needed a second car and I wanted something with more panache than our ’93 Escort. On a visit to SoCal we passed by an 86 XJ6 with a For Sale sign in the window. My wife loved the looks, and the asking price was low enough I figured we could handle the maintenance costs (I was young and naive).

    It was a wonderful and horrible car, I’m glad I bought it and was gladder when we sold it 6 years later.

  • avatar

    In 2005ish I finally had some money (low 20s) along with a good idea of what I liked in a car. It was a good time. The world was a HELOC fueled toy store. CAFE hadn’t ruined things yet, although 3.00 gas foreshadowed that it was about to. Anyhow, my list looked like this.

    02 ish Deville. Liked it, but scared away by the Northstar.

    03 Marauder. Really liked it but never managed to justify it against a clean Crown Vic at a third the price.

    The then new Charger. Hemi was 11/10 awesome. Everything else about the car was 11/10 awful. Easy walk away.

    Out of those great intentions I ended up actually buying an 00 Crown Vic with visions of sway bars and superchargers that never actually progressed further than shocks, exhaust, and a PI airbox.

    The story isn’t complete without the thoroughly disappointing ending: the next year I fell for the auto press BS about how wonderful Hyundai had become, told myself I was a savvy shopper in getting an Accord V6 with actual sound damping and a 10 year warranty besides for 15K, and with that as my reliable and gas saving runabout I’d definitely be able to get back into my project ideas on the CV.

    Reality: Life came up and I never got around to my project ideas, the Hyundai was a meh disposable that felt 10 years old and was 3/4 of the way to worthless by the time I put 50K on it, on top of that it wasn’t even good on gas, and for the money I spent on both of them I could have bought the Marauder to begin with.

  • avatar

    After a soul/wallet crushing relationship with a 1st generation VW Rabbit, I went back to the dealership that conned me into buying it in the first place in search of a replacement. I narrowed my choices down to an ’83 AMC Eagle Kammback, ’84 T’Bird Turbo and an ’85 6000 STE. I chose the Pontiac and was pleased with the ride and drive, but, never really took a liking to it being a 4-door and the surprisingly flexible structure. Traded it off after 9 months.

    I’d love to have any of the 3 today. 162 times more interesting than the ball crushing, pinched window, 4 door crossovers that deface today’s highways.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I bought an ’84 944 at an auction. After getting killed in a drag race by a young girl in a Bonneville SSEi I went back to trucks. That Porsche was amazing in the corners but horrible everywhere else, including replacement parts ( distributor cap and rotor – gaah ). I still have a truck, as we live in the Foothills of Alberta, Canada, but I also have a 2007 CTS-V for when it isn’t snowy outside – like it wasn’t today. And won’t be for the next week.

  • avatar

    Every once in a while for several years I look longingly at F10 550is. The combination of big-sedan luxury, a V8, and a stick shift is irresistible. Then I come to my senses and realize that one of them would break me within two years of ownership.

  • avatar

    Yeah I usually go in with a particular vehicle in mind though when I bought the MKZ I did think a little about a Mustang convertible, but never got beyond looking at a couple of listings, because I needed a comfortable commuter more than I needed another toy.

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