Car enthusiasts are at odds with the realities of car ownership. Vehicles cost a lot to own, so it’s hard to own a lot of them. But if you only have one, your driving experiences will always be compromised. Don’t worry, I think I can make you the ultimate five-car fleet for less than the price of a new Ford F-150.
To aspiring vehicle collectors trying to get the most machinery for your money- look at your fleet like a pyramid.
You need a strong and steady base, with distinctive building blocks that complement each other. Without getting too specific on which cars you should buy, because picking them yourself is the fun part, here’s how I think a truly “complete” but simple and affordable car collection could be comprised.
1. A daily driver and light adventure vehicle
Assuming you actually need a car for personal ambulation, start with something that’s comfortable and versatile. A car that gets you around without putting you to sleep, and is trustworthy enough to get you across a few state lines for ski trips or visits to relatives. The value of owning a car that “just works” is immeasurably stress-relieving when you’re throwing wrenches and weeks of your life at whatever other irrational beater buggies you end up with.
This is the central concept behind new things like the Mazda CX-5 and Jeep Renegade. But you don’t want to mess with monthly payments, you’re going to need that cash for the rest of your flotilla. Lucky for you Craigslist is chock full of Subarus, Mazda3s, old Hondas, third-generation Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Cherokee XJ you could drive cheaply and still enjoy.
When botching a repair job won’t prevent you from getting to work or getting to your kid’s recital because hey, you’ve still got that drivable car, you’ll find yourself a lot more willing to take risks with your projects and that’s the only way you’re really going to improve your skills on the tools.
2. A project truck, beach cruiser, hardware store runner
With getting around squared away, you’re ready to get dirty.
Assuming you’re new to working on cars for pleasure and don’t have a lot of money, start your first build with a basic beach cruiser. Don’t live near the ocean? Fine, call it a cornfield cruiser. The operative themes are “slow” and “simple.” Even (especially) if you’ve always fantasized about air cooled Porsches or the roar of old English V8s. We’ll get to that.
Utilitarian cars like CJ Jeeps and old VW Bugs are forgiving to work on and easy to get creative with (the new wood floors I made look great in my ’75 Scout!) They also tend to be cheaper and relatively low-risk. At least, your poorly-built project car can’t hurt you as much when you’re at boulevard-cruising pace as it might during an aggressive canyon carving session.
3. A project car, canyon carver and aspirational track rat
By the time you’ve saved up for car number three, those hours you spent tooling on and around in your beach buggy will have taught you valuable lessons in patience, perseverance and the realistic limitations of your mechanical abilities.
Now that you’re playing with a performance car, the stakes are higher and the engineering is more complex. There’s no shame in having to outsource certain tuning tasks to professionals, but be sure you’ve budgeted for it ahead of time.
Despite the rapidly dwindling supply of cheap BMW E30s and stratospheric prices of used Porsche 911s, there are still plenty of old performance cars to be had for less than $10,000. If I were too big for a Mazda Miata I might be looking for a grandma-owned Honda S2000. Then again I might mess around and hack up a C4 Corvette. It doesn’t matter, as long as my daily driver is still parked around the corner.
4. A ferocious motorcycle
There are plenty of good excuses to stay the hell away from high-performance motorcycles. Maybe your spouse has forbidden it, or you’ve done the math yourself and decided a cheap adrenaline rush isn’t worth the risk of debilitating injury.
But if you don’t mess with motorcycles, you’ll always be missing out on a distinct and mind-blowing vehicular experience.
The sensation of speed and excitement that an aggressively dialed motorcycle delivers blows a car out the water by such an incredible margin that the activities are hardly worth comparing. Doesn’t matter if it’s a hardcore dirt bike or high-powered sportbike, the story is the same.
It’s the deepest evolution of “person and machine as one” you can achieve without making yourself into a cyborg.
5. A comfortable motorcycle
Motorcycles are even more dramatically purpose-focused than cars are. Meaning that if a bike is great off-road, it might be pretty miserable on asphalt. That’s why the cherry on the top of your vehicle collection will be a chill-ass two wheeler.
You’re going to want an upright riding position, a wheelbase with some length and a decent sized engine with more than one cylinder. The highest throne of vehicular enlightenment is on the seat of that machine.
At gentle, upright motorcycle could leave plenty of cars in the dust, but it’s not in anybody’s face about it. It could take you to work and back, but it tempts you to take it across the country.
If you’re trying to put together the ultimate vehicle collection, you better get your comfortable motorcycle last because if you start here you might not bother with the rest of the fleet.