Like you, we spend lots of time wondering how much dependable rolling quirk we can buy for a buck. As it turns out, the answer is "not much." Here are ten killer deals on practical, four-wheeled odd.
Our criteria for building this list were fairly simple: In order to make the cut, a car had to be relatively sensible, inexpensive, and easy to find anywhere in the country. It also had to be enjoyable to drive every day, have a solid parts supply, and be just a little bit...odd.
You know, odd in that Jalopnik way. The cars here may not be that special to most, but to put it bluntly, they're better — or maybe just weirder — than a used Camry. Rejected? Often. Forgotten? Never.
(Note: Year ranges listed are suggested purchase ranges, not model lifespan. Think you can do better than what we found? Prove it—let us know in the comments.)
What: Volkswagen Beetle
Why: Ubiquitous and unusual all at once. Air-cooled and has swing axles, both of which became novelties long ago. Was once the most common car on the planet. Will run—or at least run badly—until the Sun cools. Holds four people and can choogle down a highway at relatively modern speeds. Has reached old age with surprising grace. Reminds you that once, in the world of cars, there was such a thing as Different.
How Jalopnik Is It? Anywhere from 150-ish points to a blue bajillion, depending on age, horsepower, type of fuel delivery, and level of funk.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Not quite as practical as the Beetle, but way more common in the rust belt. (Go figure.)
Photo credit: David Prior/Flickr
What: Peugeot 505
Why: It's French, which means that it has seats like your living-room sofa and an interior designed to make you forget that driving is work. Surprisingly durable. Remarkably attractive. Handles well. Comes as either a sedan or a handsome wagon. Reminds you that the French need to start selling cars here again. Downside: fashionable with hipsters.
How Jalopnik Is It? 65 to 200 points, depending on choice of engine and the number of dead mimes you have in the trunk.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Er...let's see...a cheap, relatively modern French car that still exists stateside in any quantity? We'll get back to you on that.
Photo Credit: Joside Lusarreta/Flickr
What: Mercedes-Benz W108 (S-class forerunner)
Why: It's last of the old-school, Hitler-staff-car Benzes. Six-cylinder versions can usually be found for less than the cost of a decent lunch. Likely to be more dignified than you are. Will carry four people and their luggage from here to Zimbabwe without complaint. Downside: Doesn't take well to neglect. Often refuses to move without "Ride of the Valkyries" playing on the radio.
How Jalopnik Is It? Even the lamest 108 is a 50-point car. Quadruple the point count if the vehicle in question has ever been used in a putsch.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Mercedes-Benz W114/115, essentially the W108's younger brother. Smaller and less luxurious but just as indomitable.
What: Chrysler Newport
Why: Associate editor Ben Wojdyla recommends it. In his words, "you look like a low-level mob enforcer in one, although I'm pretty sure the car won't start unless you're wearing a brown polyester suit and white patent leather shoes." 'Nuff said.
How Jalopnik Is It? 150 points for a four-door, 125 for a two-door. Double points if the previous owner once stored Jimmy Hoffa in the glovebox.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Really, just pick anything from the movie Goodfellas. You'll be fine.
What: Volvo 262C Bertone
Why: It's a Volvo 240 coupe that's been made to look more odd. The 240 is a fantastic, if slow, vehicle, essentially a standard Detroit sled as interpreted by the Swedish. (For the uninitiated, this means a Dana stick axle, great brakes, and a heater that just won't quit.) The 262C was the same thing plus Italian sheet metal. Neat, if you like that sort of thing.
How Jalopnik Is It? Our math gives us 93, but that can't be right. It's a Swedish version of an American car that was built by Italians, fer chrissakes. Let's just double it: 186.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: A regular Volvo 240. Good ones basically grow on trees, and if you're stepping out of anything modern, they can feel amazingly old and quirky. (This is a good thing.)
What: Pontiac Tempest
Why: As our friend Graverobber once put it, "two words: rope drive." A rear-mounted transaxle, a flexible driveshaft, and near-50:50 weight distribution. Designed by John DeLorean. Has pretty much always been dirt cheap. The Tempest is likely cooler than you are.
How Jalopnik Is It? 105 points at least, more if you get lucky. If your rope drive has ever been removed from the car and used to hang someone, add 50 points.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: 1960–1962 Plymouth Valiant. Something of an ugly duckling, but appealing in its own right.
What: Alfa Romeo Spider
Why: Generally speaking, making a reliable daily driver out of a decades-old Alfa is neither easy nor inexpensive, but we're romantics. Post-Duetto (i.e., Kamm-tail) Spiders are the unloved rejects of the Alfa family—they're far too primitive and fragile for most people, even as cheap convertibles, and most Alfa freaks prefer the fixed-roof cars. (It's a surprisingly easy trap to fall into—yours truly has lusted for a Giulia Super since the first Bush administration.) What this means is that they're everywhere, cheaper than free, and all but disposable. Thankfully, they're also damn entertaining.
How Jalopnik Is It? Even the world's lamest Spider is a 150-point car. Thank you, Italy.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Alfa Romeo Milano. Yes. (What were we supposed to suggest? A Lancia?)
Photo Credit: PeoplemapsJulie/Flickr
What: BMW 2002
Why: BMW claims that this is the original sport sedan—it's not, though that's a discussion for another time—but mostly, we just think it's fun. (And for that matter, small, practical, fuel-efficient, durable, cheap, and a good basis for a canyon-carving hot rod.) It's like an Alfa GTV where everything works. Rusts a lot, but impact-bumper beaters (post-'74) are cheaper than you think.
How Jalopnik Is It? 125 points at minimum. Add five points if it's orange (Inka) or yellow (Golf).
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Volkswagen Golf (Mark I). Same basic idea, but front-wheel drive and cheaper parts.
Photo Credit: Tree Dork/Flickr
What: Mercedes-Benz R107 (SL)
Why: Because it's known far and wide as the "Panzer" (as in "tank") SL. More common than dirt and carved from a single, spectacular chunk of Teutonic arrogance. Vehicular cockroach; will likely survive Armageddon with its standard hardtop intact. Reminds you that the Germans once built everything out of cast iron and willpower.
How Jalopnik Is It? At least 105 points.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: You can't find one of these? Really? Try Craigslist, or simply step outside, close your eyes, and start walking. You'll bump into one. Promise.
What: MG MGB
Why: This is a tough one. By modern standards, the MGB is a slow, depressing little car. It handles like a used-up Jeep and seems to have been built from Fisher-Price plastic and medieval machine tools. It rusts—badly—and all the affordable ones are equipped with ugly, government-mandated rubber bumpers. Still, the 'B succeeds in spite of itself. It's charmingly, irrepressibly British in a way that few things are, and it can often be pretty entertaining to drive. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I kind of want one. Don't you?
How Jalopnik Is It? 140 at minimum. Thank you, Jolly Old.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: Late (1970–1981) Triumph Spitfire. Nowhere near as common or as well-built as a 'B, but still not a bad choice. There are other Triumphs worth having, but these are the most attainable. (God help you if you buy a Stag.)
Photo Credit: Arkadyevna/Flickr
Honorable Mention: Chevrolet El Camino
When: 1959-1960, 1964-1987
Why: If you have to ask, you don't need to know.
How Jalopnik Is It? Ditto.
Can't Find One? Try This Instead: We're supposed to say "Ford Ranchero" here, right? Boo. Just buy a Camino.