Here's a sobering fact: the start of the '90s was more than two decades ago. Fortunately, the aging cars on the market haven't gotten any less awesome, based on your responses to my challenge last week. Get ready to blast some Chumbawumba and enjoy the ten best '90s cars on eBay for less than $9,000.
Have you ever noticed cars nowadays don't have names that evoke a sense of theater, but sound like the names of store-brand compatible printer toner? This Buick Roadmaster Wagon had one of the last great names, and behind the great name was an even greater car. Seriously, this car was physically robust, there's a reason why Mike Musto of /DRIVE calls it his "Battle Wagon." It could likely go through a house, gaining little more than a few characterful scratches along the way. An added bonus to this awesome people-hauler is that it has the LT1 V8 engine from the Caprice 9C1 Police Interceptor and Corvette. It wasn't the fastest car in its class, but it sure was the most imposing and surprising.
(Suggested by parkrndl will have a CVT with mayo on white toast)
There was a time when BMW didn't just add cylinders to their M cars. I like to call that "the simpler time," before variable this and double-clutch that. BMW's M lineup in the early '90s came with souped-up, larger displacement versions of their existing inline-six cylinder engines, making this beautiful BMW M5 an 11/10ths 5-series. It gave you that subtle push into the extreme, letting you know that you're driving something that the dentist down the street wouldn't dare to own. This example is sure to appreciate in the coming years, so scoop it up before it becomes unobtanium like all earlier M cars.
(Suggested by Brian Silvestro)
This Toyota 4Runner may be the proto-typical SUV, perfect for nearly everyone.
I'll let WhiteTrashSteve explain:
This is a mid-level SR5 4wd model with the nigh-indestructible 3.4 V6 that replaced the only truly bad engine that Toyota ever made. Located in suburban southern California, this example is likely to have been purchased with a low-rate home equity loan by a 30-something suburban family because "the Camry was just too small when the boys hit their growth spurt." Also, it's DARK GREEN. If you lived in the 90s, you understand how important it was that your circa-1998 driveway was populated with at least one dark green SUV.
It has likely had its 4 wheel drive engaged for only a few minutes during a demonstration and perhaps during a jaunt onto the beach by the sons of the original owners. With only 160k miles, this 4runner is just entering middle age, despite the fact that its 22 carfax records indicate a lot of flipping or auction play in the past few years. It's probably going to close with enough left in the budget to replace those cheap seat covers with some decent leather and fix whatever gremlins might be hiding from its neglect or abuse.
(Suggested by WhiteTrashSteve)
In the '90s, car companies took chances. Subaru up until that point, had been known for making dependable, yet cheap-looking cars like the Justy and the insanely quirky but dated XT. This awesome Subaru SVX looked like a glimpse into a future we all wanted, although not everyone could get on board with the automatic-only transmission option and the half-window, even though it was a staple in exotic supercars of the day. I think that this car, especially this nearly immaculate white example, will withstand the test of time, and prove itself to be a true modern classic and collectible, if the people on craigslist selling for $800 don't run them all into the ground first. Save the good ones before they all go extinct.
(Suggested by Z16Zach)
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class will always be car culture's ambassador to the future, and this W140 S500 is no different. It's the German tank that will heat your backside and make sure the business meeting goes smoothly, because it simply knows no other way. It's a car made for the self-made entrepreneur that knows what they want, be it a car phone in the center armrest, or dual-zone climate control. In this Benz, it's always the '90s, and you're living in the future.
(Suggested by JayHova)
This Mazda Miata isn't a car from the '90s. It was actually designed in the '80s, as a version of the nimble roadsters made in Britain in the '60s. It was a greatest hits version of all your favorite unreliable cars, made to run forever. And that's why it will always have a place in the top ten cars of the decade. You can drive it daily, race it competitively, or turn it into whatever your freaky modding dollar will allow. It's a blank canvas, with every artistic direction leading to fun. Tons of these cars were made, so get one while it's still dirt cheap.
(Suggested by BenLikesCars)
The Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 is a Japanese halo car that I loved so much I actually bought one and I'm currently hoarding it like Dwarvish gold, in the very likely chance that it will appreciate in the coming year. Those of you not looking for the Arkenstone-spec '99 VR4 that I have can make do with this first generation VR4, which is nearly identical and has more quirky '90s technology, like active aero and an animated climate control display. It's a Dodge Viper that spares your life and lasts forever with scheduled maintenance. It's a true budget supercar, and it deserves to be in anyone's up-and-coming car collection, at least until it starts puking oil.
In the early '90s, Honda made a car that returned more than 50 miles per gallon. The car was a Honda CRX HF. This Si version, (short for sport injected or sequential injected, depending on how many hours you spent on Wikipedia) is the hot hatch version of what amounted to Honda's lightest and most nimble car at the time. It'll still get you stellar MPG, but it'll do it while giving you a nice push back in your bolstered velour seat every time you stab at the right pedal.
(Suggested by mazda500SEL)
There's no simpler formula for fun than a big V8 engine with a manual gearbox and rear wheel drive. This Pontiac Firebird is very easily moddable, has an iconic shape, and is cheaper than any soul-sucking Versa on the lot today. This car is the business in the front, party in the back of the automotive world. It's a car-mullet. Or a mullet-car. Either way, buy it. PBR's on me.
Whether I can sign off on this or not, I'll make this clear - you all picked it. So don't come crying to me when your early AutoUnion five-cylinder comes back with three melted pistons and an affinity to spank children in public. This Audi 200 Quattro does have trademark '90s styling and a really rakish rear hatch, so it'll separate you from anyone else at the local Cars & Coffee, and it should, because you'll be the only one that needs to bring kitty litter to clean up the inevitable mess you leave behind. Also, does anyone know the number of a reasonable tow truck? I'm not from here.
(Suggested by jkm7680)
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Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes 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.