A few weekends ago I bought one of the rarest cars in the country. It is one of the best-built cars of all time, it has a five-speed manual, and a 3.0 liter V6. Naturally, it's a Lexus. Welcome to Jalopnik's newest racecar.
For a few months now, Jalopnik has been on the market for a cheap car to run in autocross, rallycross, ice racing, whatever. We wanted something fun, something not too difficult to maintain, and something for less than a grand. The usual suspects took up most of our Craigslist searches — FX16s, CRXs, MX3s, Volvo 240s, Jettas, and a pair of non-running four-wheel-drive 323 GTXs across the country in California.
It's probably best that plan didn't pan out.
The problem was that every car that seemed nice was just a bit too expensive, and everything within our budget had been crashed into a tree or whatever. This all changed after an extended conversation with Jalopnik alumnus and beater expert Murilee Martin. Murilee argued that the prices people advertise on Craigslist mean nothing.
Asking prices on Craigslist are just crackhead dreams. If the seller smells of flakery, you can usually get a car for half asking as long as you wave the cash under his nose.
So I set out to make an offer on the next bizarre car that came up in my Craigslist searches and while looking for a manual Camry V6, I stumbled upon an ad for a '93 Lexus ES300 with a five-speed. I did not know Lexus made the ES300 with a five-speed. I had never even heard of a Lexus ES300 with a five-speed. So naturally I wrote the seller right up and after a few back-and-forth texts, I was driving my car up to Westchester to see the seller and hopefully not get robbed. The car was listed at $1000, I had $600 burning a hole in my pocket, and my coworker Mike Ballaban at my side.
We arrived after sunset (it's always easiest to look over a car in the dark), met the car's owner Randy, went for an uneventful, squeaky test drive, and then started bargaining.
The car had squeaked and clunked its way through our short drive, and I asked Randy what he wanted the car for it. He said right what the car was listed for in the first place, a thousand dollars. It was just a winter car for him, and he was going to get his regular car back the next day. He wanted the car gone, but he wasn't keen on lowering the price.
Now, I am a terrible negotiator. I buy things full price, every time. If I try to bargain with someone, more likely than not, I'm paying more than what was initially charged.
I asked him what he would say if I offered him $500 right there.
It's not just that he said no. It's that he was personally insulted by the offer. Affronted. Hurt. Crestfallen. Five hundred bucks is what he paid to register the car.
At this point, I turned to Mike, who is a negotiations expert. Ok, he's not an expert, but he watches pawn shop reality shows, so that makes him more of an expert than me.
Mike asks Randy what price he think he could do for us, if $500 was too low. Randy let out $650. I turned to Mike. We had agreed on the trip there that $650 was the top limit of what we were ok with paying. I scratched my chin, and looked to him to see if he'd agree on the price. It is at this point that Mike first revealed a glimmer of his dark, icy heart.
"What about $550?"
I could see this line cut right into Randy's soul. It pained him, and I looked at Mike like he was pimp-slapping a puppy.
After a pause, Randy offered $625. I bit my knuckle. Mike was undeterred.
"How about $575?"
I did not have the heart for this. I was not strong enough. I wanted to shrink into an ant and crawl away. I dreamed of turning invisible, or turning back time, or anything else to escape the momentary tension on Randy's driveway, his Lexus ticking away in the dark.
"$600," Randy offered, and I agreed on the price. We shook hands, took the key, and went inside to sign the bill of sale.
We squared things away at the dining room table, as Randy's mom looked on. She asked Mike and me something, and verified that we didn't speak Spanish. She started talking with Randy, and I managed to gather her asking him how much he paid.
In Spanish still, he said six hundred. Six hundred?!
His mom (I know this look very well) stared at him with the look of 'this is the son I raised? This is the disappointment I have made?' Mike and I left as quickly as we could. I didn't want the deal getting reversed.
The drive back was like a dream. The car pulls on the highway, with 185 horsepower moving 3,200 pounds. The clutch is worn out, with only an inch or two of takeup right at the bottom of the pedal. The belts squeal like the car's supercharged. The shifter came off of Randy's friend's RX-7, with throws as long as an old pickup truck.
It smells deeply of Lexus.
Worst of all, we were warned that the car overheats. We made it back to my parking garage in Manhattan without any trouble, but when I tested the car a few weeks later I found it barf all of its coolant out of the system within 20 minutes of driving.
Here's the result of the test, with the culprit in full view: the radiator reservoir has a very prominent hole in it, where it has spewed hot coolant that may have possibly caught on fire at some point.
Well, I shouldn't say that's the culprit. I'm honestly not sure if the coolant reservoir hole is the reason why the car is overheating, or if the car overheating caused the coolant to explode out of the reservoir.
In any case, we at Jalopnik just have got that to figure out, the belts to change, the rear taillight to fix, and then the registration to sort out and we'll be on the road. Look for us tearing up our local autocross in tire-squealing, leather-lined glory. And if you have any theories on the coolant problem, let me know below.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove