Black sheep of the automotive world are everywhere - junkyards especially. They’re the sequels and no-hit wonders that no one wanted, much less asked for, but were they all that bad? Here are five crap cars that aren’t s’bad when you give them a real consideration. I have my flame suit on. Bring it!
5. 2001-2010 Lexus SC430
This was voted by the super objective trio at Top Gear as “Worst Car In The World”, and here’s why: “SC” stands for Sport Coupe and the SC430 is neither sporty, nor a coupe: it’s a pillowy hardtop convertible with no room in the backseat for anyone resembling a lower half, but if you view it as a two-seater that needs some work on the suspension and power delivery, it’s not a bad car at all. It’s also dirt cheap for a modern luxury convertible.
With some off-the-shelf upgrades like coilovers, polyurethane steering rack bushings, better tires and a more aggressive transmission shifting program, the car can be quite competitive and fun to drive, as evidenced by the fact that they’re still used as professional drift cars to this day. It’s also a hard-top convertible, which is the best kind of convertible because its top is immune from the daggers of any crazy exes.
4. 2001-2005 Pontiac Aztek
I’m going out on a limb and say that I liked the Pontiac Aztek before Walter White made the car ironically cool. It was Pontiac’s best imitation of the Family Truckster - what’s not to love? It sports safety scissors construction quality and has an optional tent. It’s a car that you can sleep in. You can use the available all wheel drive and get yourself to mildly off-road destinations while likely offending the local wildlife with the car’s aesthetic, but that doesn’t matter because it’s the cheapest modern SUV/crossover/minivan you can buy today.
The build quality is decent if you don’t count the almost efficient 3.4 liter V6 engine and the interior design, which looks like it was mapped out by a first year design major C student that hated his parents because they wouldn’t let him use his tuition money on an turntable signed by Skrillex. When I have a mega garage, I’m buying one of these if only to commemorate how frantically far Pontiac was willing to go to get customers. They ultimately failed, but that in itself deserves praise.
3. 1992-1995 Hyundai Elantra
There is nothing more hateful in this world than a 20 year old Hyundai. It was built with inferior parts, inferior build quality, and most are in the junkyard where they belong. However, among the filth lies a golden nugget of hope - the ‘92-’95 Hyundai Elantra, and here’s why - it’s a total sleeper. In the early ‘90s, Hyundai didn’t have the cash for proper R&D for new engines on all of their models, so they outsourced their engines to established manufacturers. The engine in the Elantra is Mitsubishi’s 4g61, a 1.6-liter dual overhead cam naturally aspirated engine that shares its roots with the Dodge Colt and Eagle Summit.
It also has the exact same mounting points as the 4G63 turbo engine in the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Lancer Evolution, and Eagle Talon TSi. With a quick engine swap and some choice mods, this car can become cartoonishly fast. You can leave it unlocked because no one will want to steal it, and it’s so light that it’ll return decent MPGs. For those that want to keep a low profile while extracting maximum driving experience, look no further than the Elantra, that is, if you can find one. Try it and see if there are any you can purchase and mod for pocket change.
2. 2001-2010 Chrysler PT Cruiser
Walking Wikipedia page and Yellow Hummer Weekly editor-in-chief Doug DeMuro drove over a PT Cruiser after nailing boards to its quarter panels and repainting the interior with house paint. However, I’ve driven one of these cars in the past, and while the internet rage machine can certainly be persuasive, the driving experience isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. There’s a surprising amount of headroom, there’s an available manual transmission in the later model years, the window switches are in the center console like a Ferrari, and the top of the range version includes the same engine block as the insanely stout Dodge Neon SRT-4 with slight differences to turbo, piping, and tuning.
If you lower the suspension and give it a nice set of wheels and sticky tires, it’s one of the most practical fast cars you can buy anywhere, and it’s cheaper than any running turbo car on the market by a fair margin. Here’s a turbo model in a great color, with maintenance records, no accidents, and a manual drivetrain for a barely four figure sum. It’s quirky as hell and bursting with value, especially on the used car market.
1. 1981-1991 Maserati BiTurbo
I think the most fun cars are the ones that came from the factory with glaring faults. Here’s my logic: when a company releases a car like this Maserati BiTurbo onto the unsuspecting public, they say two things - first, that they don’t give an elder’s tallywhacker about what the public thinks and second, that as the buyer, you’re on your own. I like it like that. On the face of it, you have a carburated V6 engine made by Maserati with the addition of two turbochargers and a knack for bursting into flames because why the hell not.
Here’s the car’s redeeming feature: it’s crazy cheap for hand-made Italian quality and the issues that are presented by the earlier cars can be solved either with a fuel injection conversion that later cars had as standard, or you just swap the engine to something that won’t try to light itself ablaze, like this delightful “race car” example that has the dead reliable 1UZ-FE V8 engine from a Lexus LS400. The car, despite its mechanical gremlins, wasn’t that bad of a handler, and although the aftermarket isn’t exactly thriving, there’s a small but vocal community of enthusiasts that welcome any newcomers with open arms.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.