Ever since writing about the city of Troy, Michigan requiring me to fix or sell my fleet of 12 cars, I’ve received an outpouring of vitriol from homeowners. But between the claims that I’m an inconsiderate neighbor and folks calling me a hoarder, some words of solidarity have shined through. Some of them come from people in similar situations, like this man from North Carolina, who has 10 cars, much to the chagrin of his HOA. He needs our help in deciding which to keep.
My car “situation” has had the unintended benefit of allowing me to create a new column in which I advise car hoarders on which vehicles they should hold onto, and which they should part ways with. I’ve received loads of emails from “my people,” with today’s patient being Stephen from Wilmington, North Carolina. His collection is incredibly strange in that it features remarkably many crappy American cars. Which isn’t surprising when you see the amazingly low purchase prices on these things.
I do feel a bit guilty because Stephen says he “followed the path of one of my favorite writers (you) and purchased a fleet of cheap-ass cars,” which means I’m partially responsible for the troubles with his homeowner’s association.
“Most of the time the car was attractive to me for various reasons, an interesting challenge or just cheap enough that it needed to be bought,” Stephen told me about how he wound up in his predicament. “My problem is that I start falling in love with them after fixing them up.”
“You’ll notice that I have an affinity for coupes/convertibles/2-doors, with only the utilitarian Durango being the exception in the lineup,” he continued, before outlining his problems with his HOA:
This has left me with 10 cars currently, and an HOA that has already sent multiple letters, a City Codes enforcement officer and a Zoning Officer to my house to speak with me about my fleet.
I currently have parking for about 7 of the 10, with the remaining 3 constantly being shuffled on street parking and my buddy’s paint shop (“take as long as you need to paint it!”).
Stephen tells me he doesn’t want to part with his automobiles, but maintaining them has become a bit of a chore. “Perhaps you and the readership can help decide which to cull from the herd,” Stephen concluded.
Stephen needs our help, and as the person partly responsible for ruining his life, I’m glad to be of assistance. I feel that it’s my duty.
I’ll let Stephen describe each of his vehicles, then I’ll chime in. Let’s start with the seven that he bought for a combined total of $1,915.
I found this car on the local (Wilmington, NC) Craigslist for $500 and was able to talk the seller down to $300. It had no 2nd gear at the time, a CEL, leaking valve covers, bad engine mounts, a beat-up interior, a bad window regulator, bad alignment/suspension components and paint that was Carolina sun-baked. I ended up fixing all of the above and the car is currently in line to get a cheap re-spray. It’s slow, it has a ton of miles on it, but it has a 5 speed, cold AC and these cars are very much going the way of the Spectacled Cormorant.
-Getting more rare by the week
-Low purchase price
-Already invested $1,500 on a used trans+ install
-Parts are getting harder to find
-Limited aftermarket support
-Not really worth much
DT’s thoughts: At this point, you may as well keep this thing. With a re-spray, it will look respectable-ish, but really, it’s the repairs you’ve put into this Stealth that has me saying you should hold onto it. You’re not going to get much if you sell it—much less than what a reasonably reliable automobile should be worth. Plus, I love a five-speed.
This is a weird one. The attached pictures show what is looked like when I found it on the Wilmington Craigslist for $300. No wheels, didn’t run, cheap price was the description. I got the guy down to $290, bought a junkyard set of wheels and tires and towed it home. That’s when the “Jaguar ownership” side of the car started showing. “Valet Mode” was on and the car only came with a Valet Key. Valet Mode only allows the Valet Key to unlock the drivers door and to turn the ignition. The battery was dead and is located in the non-accessible-with-a-valet-key trunk. Master Keys for the car are $1,200 at a dealership and the “tibbe” key type is not supported by most local locksmiths.
I ended up finding one that cut me a key for about $400 and got past that headache. Charged the battery and got it to pop off on starter fluid, which pointed to a bad fuel pump. Put a fuel pump in (nightmare job - google if you’re bored) and then found the radiator leaking. Went to put a radiator in it and pulled out the threads out of the trans cooling lines. Put a trans line in it, filled it back up and fired it up to find....white smoke out of the left exhaust from a partially blown head gasket and cracked head (see photo). I’m now around $2K into this thing and am facing a head job on a British luxury car. But damn it’s sexy.
-It’s a Jaaag
-British Racing Green
-It’s a Jaaag
-Wicked expensive parts
DT’s thoughts: Get rid of this money-pit right now. Swallow what you’ve put into it, and move on. I applaud the work you’ve done to get it looking decent, and I get that it’s nice to own a comfortable luxury car (especially one with a ~300 horsepower V8!), but this thing isn’t worth your time. Once you get it mended with a new top, you’ll likely be in at least $4,000 for an okay Jag with peeling clear-coat; I’m not sure this car is cool enough to be worth that.
I bought this one in ‘15 for $225 off of a woman in Nashville, TN. Her daughter had just been in a front-end collision and had broken the radiator, but continued driving until the head gasket blew and the head warped. I filled it with water, limped it home and repaired it in my then-apartment parking lot. I also popped some sweet-ass hood pins in the mangled hood to keep it down. The car was originally from Kentucky and has some nasty rust on the rockers and left quarter that serve as a badge of honor here in rust-free Coastal Carolina. I put a leather interior in it from a junked Sebring Coupe (see mismatched dash color), drove it to Upstate NY and back and that’s about it. 5 years of faithful service from this great little Mitsubishi-made machine.
-Under $1k invested
-Cool looking rust
-Near worthless in NC with the rust
DT’s thoughts: At this point, let me just note how amazed I am that you put so much time and effort into vehicles this crappy. I mean, to swap the radiator, fix the front fascia, repair the head, and swap out the interior on something this, err, ordinary, is just remarkable.
I’ve always had an affinity for Dodge Stratus Coupes. I dig their styling, and for $225, I totally get why you bought it. The fact that you’ve now got a running, driving car for under $1,000 is great, but let’s be honest: This thing isn’t exactly worth much more than a grand, and if you factor in your time, you’re just not likely to come out ahead if you sell this.
That’s why, when you undergo projects like these, you’ve got to love the car you’re working on. If you love this Stratus Coupe, sure, keep it. But it’s rusty and honestly not the most interesting in my eyes. I, personally, would ditch it for whatever I could get out of it if only to free up some of my time and money, as this thing will need maintenance over the years, as all old cars do.
I picked this one up for $200 in rough shape. I replaced the busted swampy interior (it had rained in the car for years) and tuned up the suspension and drivetrain (plugs, wires, O2 sensor, tie rods, trans fluid/filter, etc). It’s now weeping coolant from the water pump and she smokes badly from worm valve stem seals (endemic to these Mitsu 3.0L engines).
-Getting rarer to see these on the road
-Needs Water pump
-Needs Valve stem seals
-Will never be worth anything
DT’s thoughts: LeBarons are awesome. Convertibles are awesome. Swapping a water pump and valve stem seals shouldn’t be too hard. I’d keep this one for the cool-factor alone.
I bought this car after it suffered a catastrophic timing tensioner failure for $100. It had sat abandoned in a backyard since 2014 and had the paint baked off of it by the Carolina sun. Popped the head off, replaced the gasket, but my dumbass didn’t seat one of the roller rockers correctly and I ended up destroying the head when I started it up. Bought another head at a local yard for $60 and did the job again, but correctly. It’s now a perfectly running car with only 68K on it.
-Who doesn’t love yellow?
-Dent in body from riding lawnmower - ha!
DT’s thoughts: I used to drive my dad’s 2005 Saturn Vue in college, and the thing was extremely reliable. It had the same 2.2-liter EcoTec motor as your Cavalier, and it had the same F23 five-speed manual, which I liked a lot until the internal slave cylinder crapped out.
Yours has so few miles on it, and the car looks decent, despite the dent. I’d hold onto this as basic, reliable transportation. This car should last forever.
Bought this for $400 with 190K on it. I’ve always loved the styling of these cars and green-on-black convertibles are pretty rare (try finding one for this price). I upgraded the front spindles to take the larger discs off of its Cloud Car brethren, the Cirrus and put a new timing belt on it at 200K, but that’s about it. Drove it all the way up to Quebec and back without any issues. Original drivetrain. What’s that about these cars being junk again?
-Being one of 5 people on Jalopnik that likes the Chrysler Sebring
-Cheap to buy, run, fix
-A little smoke from worn valve seals (again, Mitsu V6)
-Will never be worth anything
DT’s thoughts: I like this early Sebring. I dig the color, the car looks to be in overall nice condition, and the fact that it seems to be reasonably reliable and easy to maintain tells me you may as well just hold onto it.
David Tracy loves the design of this truck, especially the headlights. Bought it for $400 with 225K miles on it and it has been a trusty tow vehicle for the fleet for the past 3 years. I used it to grab the Pontiac in Virginia Beach and it towed it back at 75mph down I-95 with the AC on without breaking a sweat. I replaced the usual wear items (rotors, compressor, fan clutch) but it’s been remarkably solid for a truck that was on its way to the crusher when I got it (for the bad compressor and high miles).
-Not worth much
DT’s thoughts: You do need a tow vehicle, but damn did you choose a hideous one. I remember seeing the Durango for the first time at the Kansas City Auto Show when the vehicle first came out for the 2004 model year; I thought the front end was hideous then, and I still think it’s hideous now. But it’s a proper body-on-frame truck, and—considering your affinity for shitboxes—you absolutely need something that can tow a trailer.
As much as I hate to say this: Keep the second-generation Durango.
I got bitten by the Crossfire bug a couple years ago and found the perfect (to me) version in Florida. Called out of work, rented a car, drove and picked it up that day for $3,500 (killer price). Sporty and fun with the 6-speed trans and in probably the best shape of any car I have. It’s garage-kept and in great condition. The issue with these cars is that there weren’t too many made and that Mercedes parts for them are going through the roof in price and in some cases are become really hard to find. For example, the SKREEM security units are not available from Chrysler dealerships any longer, nor via the aftermarket. If yours stops working, your car is a paperweight unless you ship your unit (along with your PCM and your key) [to] a small outfit on the West Cost to have them re-code it. Keys are selling for $900. Used headlights are selling for $350. You can see where this is going for ownership of these cars. Yes, the platform and running gear is all SLK320, but the body and interior have divorced parents that are estranged. With that said, values are slightly climbing and I’ve seen cars in worse shape than mine selling for $5k. This may be the last 2 seater manual trans Chrysler, ever.
-A 2-seat, stick-shift Chrysler?!
-Needs seat heater installed (have part, check out this nightmare repair Heated seat repair)
-[Daimler] divorce parts issues
-Near zero aftermarket support
-Near zero dealership support/knowledge of these cars
-The future of keeping them running looks tougher each year
DT’s thoughts: The Crossfire is weird and cool, and yours looks to be in great shape. Keep it. (Random fact: The Crossfire uses the NSG 370 six-speed manual transmission, which is a rather clunky, unrefined manual used in SUVs like the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Liberty, and Dodge Nitro).
Also, the fact that this one car cost almost double as much as the previous seven cars combined is just nuts.
I’ve always wanted a silver-on-charcoal V8 Gen 4 Firebird since I was a teenager, so when i saw this one in Virginia Beach for $1800, I finally had my chance. These cars are getting harder and harder to find in decent shape/cheap price because of 90s GM interior quality and how badly they’re beaten and maintained by the Joe Dirt crowd. It’s currently getting it’s faded paint re-sprayed and I put a set of junkyard leather seats in it to replace the lame-ass GM mouse fur cloth ones.
-Getting more rare by the week
-90s GM interior
-Honestly I am struggling to find anything else bad here
DT’s thoughts: I can find something else bad here—the four-speed slushbox. If this car had the T56 six-speed, I’d say keep it. But personally, as someone who isn’t in love with the styling, I’d let this thing go. Though it has a variant of the C4 Corvette’s V8, it’s not exactly a precision sports car, and it’s really not that quick. I think the Crossfire will satisfy your sports car needs, even if it doesn’t quite sound as good as this Firebird.
I bought this one in ‘13 for $1800 while my wrenching skills were still in their infancy and was burned badly by a couple shops on a bad fuel injector repair. I ended up spending over $2k to get it fixed, so I’ve held onto the car for the past 7 years to recoup my losses. The over-4K I have into this thing is at least mitigated by the fact that it’s a triple-blue convertible (blue exterior, blue interior, blue top). Try finding another triple blue that’s not an exotic on a used car [search]. Go ahead, I’ll wait..
-Being one of 5 people on Jalopnik that likes the Chrysler Sebring
-Triple blue, y’all
-I will never get the 4K I invested into this car out of it.
DT’s thoughts: As much as I can appreciate a blue interior (though it looks black above), I’m just not a huge fan of this generation of Sebring. I prefer the green, first-gen model. I say keep that one, and let this one go.
Okay, so here’s a list of your cars with a strike through all the ones I think you should sell:
- 1993 Dodge Stealth
2002 Jaguar XK8 2003 Dodge Stratus Coupe
- 1994 Chrysler LeBaron
- 2005 Chevy Cavalier
- 2000 Chrysler Sebring Convertible
- 2004 Dodge Durango
- 2005 Chrysler Crossfire
1995 Pontiac Firebird Formula 2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible
I suggest you kill off the Jag, the Stratus Coupe, the Firebird Formula, and the 2001 Sebring convertible. This will leave you with six cars (meaning you’ll have a spare parking spot!): The Dodge Stealth, Chrysler LeBaron, Chevy Cavalier, first-gen Chrysler Sebring convertible, Dodge Durango, and Chrysler Crossfire.
You’ll have a tow vehicle in the Durango, a nice sports car in the Crossfire, reliable transportation in the Cavalier, and you’ll be able to satisfy your clear affinity for ’90s-era Chryslers with the Stealth, LeBaron, and Sebring Convertible.
You could also just buy more junkers. The fact that you’ve put so much time into repairing such shitty cars makes you a hero in my book, and I don’t want you to stop your heroics just because of silly things like “HOAs” and “code enforcement officers.” What you’re doing here is a blessing to this world, and any neighbor who doesn’t see that is a fool.
Update: After writing this story, I received this email from Stephen. He sold the Cavalier. Dammit, that was supposed to be the reliable daily-driver!:
My own “David Tracy vs. The City” situation/relationship with my HOA was deteriorating quickly and I got a few more nasty emails which prompted me to pull the trigger and move some metal.
I ended up selling the Cavalier to one of the weirdest dudes ever (he was way into Cavaliers) for $2550!
For a car that I bought with bent valves for $100 - it was a no-brainer, even though I loved that it was yellow and a 5-speed.