"Many cars that were once great have now become crap; and those that were great in my time were crap before." — Herodotus, the Beater Histories, 440 B.C.
Today we face another round of voting on the best and beater-ey-est cars you can buy today, with some additional wisdom culled from the now-dead but very classic website BeaterReview.com. All of you out there who knew BeaterReview when it was up, feel free to get up out of your chair, walk to the nearest grocery, buy some malt liquor, and pour it on the ground. RIP BeaterReview.
And speaking of RIP, let us mourn the passing of the Nissan 240SX, which BeaterReview described with the words "For the minimal cash outlay involved, it would be difficult to find a better combination of reliability, sportiness and reasonably unique good looks." Many drift kids are crying right now, and it isn't just the sting of tire smoke in their eyes.
Sadly, neither the E21 BMW 3er nor the FC RX-7 were touched upon by the infinite wisdom of BeaterReview. I will simply point out that they are both the most unloved generations of their model line, with accompanying low levels of prestige and aftermarket support. That said, second-gen RX-7s are starting to look very good nowadays.
I currently have a slight fascination with the 924, the car that CAR Magazine said had better handling than an Alfa Romeo GVT6 back in 1981. For that reason, let me share two choice quotes fromCar and Driver when they bought a junky Camaro for $1000 back in 1997.
In a handling test:
"When the Camaro encounters rough roads, it wiggles and bounces like there's some gooey elastic substance that keeps the tires from touching the road,"
and in the valet test:
"I don't mean to be uncooperative," barked the valet at road warrior Erik Davidek, "but we have a dress code here!" Then, gesturing at the forlorn Camaro as if it were a soiled copy of the Utne Reader, he added, "Please, this vehicle goes to the far lot."
Even more than the 924, I have a serious crush on the Geo Storm, a car that could not be more unloved if it had assassinated JFK. With the 140 hp GSi motor, these rebadged Isuzus were pretty quick. They only weighed something around 2,300 pounds, which is something you definitely should rub in the noses of the next FR-S owner you meet. The Protege has been getting a lot of votes, probably because people don't realize this is the universally-forgotten 1994-1998 model.
BeaterReview had this to say about the CRX, which pretty much hit the nail on the head.
An inexpensive, economical, reliable, efficient runabout that's far more fun than it should be and looks good to boot. Like its big brother, the CRX set the standard for its class during its heyday. If you can find an example that runs, drives, and is oxidationally stable, grab it, put some Pixies in the cassette deck, and remind yourself that the 80s weren't all bad.
I'm going to play devils advocate here and say that the CRX is basically just a Civic with less room and the Sentra is one of the best used buys on the market. Don't believe me? Ask former Jalopnik scribe, crap car photographer and current 24 Hours of LeMons Murilee Martin, who gave this sage advice back in 2007.
You can get a running '87-90 Sentra for peanuts, they're well-made and reliable, they usually pass CA smog, they're not big blowers of head gaskets, and they have a timing chain instead of a belt. Plus they're fairly speedy, though they handle like crap and ride like oxcarts.
What a glowing review!
BeaterReview's Crown Vic article is sadly lost forever to the deepest, darkest corner of the Internet, past the WayBack Machine's reach. All we have is this introductory line:
Way back in the long ago, there was a formula for building American sedans. You took a large V8 engine, stuck it in the front of a beefy perimeter-frame chassis, and sent the power through an automatic transmission to a Salisbury live rear axle.
BeaterReview never got to the 190E, as far as I can tell, so I'll just post this video of Senna whupping ass in a Cosworth, which is reason enough for buying one, right?
The E36 is probably going to walk away with this one and that's fine. Parts are reportedly cheap for what they are, though E30 guys will wail for days about how much harder it is to keep an E36 running than their '80s classic. Let me also link to these great tributes to the lovely-handing E36 by Jalopnik alum Davey G. Johnson right here and right here.
My natural counterpoint is that I saw a Saab 900 absolutely whipping through the last rallycross I went to, the owner giving absolutely zero fucks whatsoever. These things are cheap.
The Scout has two great things going for it. 1) These things are still critically undervalued and 2) it was made by a company that built farm equipment, so you know it has to be good.
The Baja Bug, well, in the year or so I've owned one, mine has spent more time being repaired than it has been in working service. However, there's something to be said about a car you can fix on the side of the road with your teeth.
Why am I even writing this? Nobody remembers the '87-'91 Gen 4 Bronco and about ten thousand Jeep diehards are going to vote for the XJ. Whatever, those things are pretty great.