Matthew has recently encountered some professional and personal changes, and he is going to relocate from NYC to LA to “reboot” his life. He wants something fun and unique that is suitable for California weather. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
I work in an industry that was functionally destroyed by the pandemic. In addition, my decade long relationship is ending. Given that sheltering in place as much as possible seems like it will be the sanest way to live for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided to trade my 400-square-foot NYC apartment for something larger in Los Angeles while I figure out what I’m doing next. In other words, I’m doing a complete life reboot.
I’ve only owned four cars. Three were family hand me downs (a ‘72 Renault 12, a ‘78 Monza and ‘96 Accord) and one I bought myself (an ‘87 Samurai - I loved that underpowered weirdo). I’ve never owned a new car.
Like 90% of the people who write you, I want a car that is fun. I would like it to be either convertible or to have a moonroof because L.A. I prefer stick, but it’s not a deal breaker. I don’t have any hobbies that require hauling large items. I would like it to have some Look-at-me factor, but not so much that it looks like I’m compensating for something (my ex describes my style as “flashy, but understated”). My budget is $40,000, but I’d consider more for something really awesome.
Budget: Up to $40,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Soon to be Los Angeles
Wants: Flashy, fun, interesting
Doesn’t want: Something too over the top
Well, Matthew given everything that you have gone through it sounds like a fresh start is a good plan. Now we have heard plenty of comments on this site that convertibles in California aren’t as much of “a thing” as people assume they are, and I’m fairly certain that owning a manual and dealing with LA area traffic is not fun. But if you are determined to get the ideal SoCal car, I’m not here to convince you otherwise. In fact, I think you should go all out and get a rear-wheel-drive sports car, preferably with a manual trans and an open top.
What you need is a Jaguar F-type. I don’t know if I would exactly describe the Jag as “flashy but understated,” but it definitely has the looks and in LA no one is going to think you are “compensating” for anything unless you are driving a supercar or some obnoxiously modified G-Wagen. Finding both a manual and convertible F-type is going to be a challenge, so if you are open to an automatic that will give you a lot more inventory to pick from in your price range. However, here is a super clean, low mile, drop-top with three pedals in NJ that you can pick up before you move and either drive it across the country or have it shipped to CA.
I do love the F-Type, but that car has a hideously small trunk and, well, it’s nice for driving around but not really for exploring. You’re in a new place! You want to explore, you want to take weekend bags with you, you want to live not just run to redline. A Miata, honestly, is a jazzier little car for that kind of job.
But there already is a perfect SoCal car, and one that has been for years: fun to drive, not too big, stylish, and practical. The compact BMW two-door sedan. In the 1960s and ‘70s, this was the 2002. In the 1980s, it was the E30. Today, you can still get a 2 Series “coupe” from BMW, in a manual, from between $35,000 and $45,000 depending on how big an engine you feel you need. Buying lightly used gets the big engine down into the price range of the little one.
I find myself in a similar spot, Matthew, in that recent life events have driven me to seek, in some ways, a hard-reset. It’s why I sold a bunch of my cars (and more will go soon), and it’s why I’ve resolved to really just live the dream as much as possible because the dream is the antidote. Remember that: The dream is the antidote.
So that’s what I want you to consider when shopping for this car. Don’t think about sensibility or operating costs: Think about what’s going to make you happiest. Think about a car you’ve always wanted or at least always admired, buy that, and don’t look back.
I don’t know what that car is for you—only you do. But I can tell you one of my dream cars that fits your criteria: the first-generation Audi TT.
When I was growing up in Germany (from where I’m typing this, actually), the TT had just been released, and I couldn’t stop ogling at it from my family’s Chevy Astro van windows as we road-tripped around Europe. There was something about the curves, the awesome roll hoops on the convertible models and the beautiful fastback shape on the coupes, that sweet aluminum gas cap—that just spoke to my soul.
It was my first “favorite car,” and to this day, I can’t help but respect it deeply. I just know that, if I were to buy a TT right now (and really, I should!), that feeling of finally owning and driving the car I’d adored since I was just 10 years old would make me grin from ear to ear.
If you’re into the TT as much as I am, should be able to find a decent-condition convertible model with manual transmission for $5,000. Keep the $35,000 to clean it up a bit, and to have more fun as you navigate what I know is a challenging life reboot. Good luck.
Matthew, congratulations on having the courage to control-alt-delete your life. As someone who lived in LA for about 20 years, I can say it’s a great place to do that sort of thing in, and, even better, a fantastic place for cars.
In fact, it’s an unusually great place for cars, so much so that while everyone else’s choices are good here, you can do those anywhere, really, which is why you need to really take advantage of LA’s unique automotive resources and get yourself something really special. Something like this stunning 1969 Lancia Fulvia. And, at $38,990, this restored looker is in your budget.
This one is actually in Maryland, so I figured you could pick it up on your way out to LA and get acquainted with it on the journey. Once in LA, this car will be right at home—no cruel specter of rust looming all the time, and in LA you can actually daily a Lancia and have your pick of places actually willing and able to service it when needed.
You mentioned “flashy but understated?” This car pretty much is those three words, rendered in metal shaped into elegant shapes. A Lancia will get noticed by the interesting people, people with an eye for something unusual and special, the people you actually want to meet.
Plus, this thing will be a joy to drive! The cabin is so open and airy to let in all of that California sun, it’s light and nimble and peppy—it’s like a more stylish BMW 2002. And look at that interior! It looks like it’s made from fancy caramel.
Anywhere else in the country and a car like this just wouldn’t make sense as a daily driver. In LA, though, rules are different. You can do this. Don’t be a fool—take advantage of a city that lets you daily an old Lancia!
I’m 1,000 percent with Jason here. There’s a lot to love about Los Angeles, but the best part is seeing unusual old cars still happily doing daily driver duty. It looks like you’re no stranger to the stranger side of automobile ownership—that’s good. The tough thing about LA though is that strange cars are a dime a dozen. Practically every other car is a Renault Caravelle or Panhard PL 17.
You want to stand out a little, what you need, is a super-clean purple Cadillac.
Is it a stick? No. Is it sporty? Not exactly. But it is, surely in its way, fun to drive. Any shop in LA should be able to service it and it should be relatively cheap to run, provided you’re not including fuel cost. And most importantly, you won’t see more than a few other identical purple Coupe DeVilles running around.
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