Shawn is a Star Wars fan and not only does he dress up as Obi-Wan or Luke, but he transforms his vehicles into Star Wars art cars and uses them for charity work. However, is Nissan 350 Z-wing is getting up there in miles and he needs a replacement. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
Hey, guys! I’m feeling pretty uninspired by cars in my $25k budget these days - everything is a crossover or SUV, it seems. My friends have suggested I write to you for some pro insight from fresh eyes.
So here’s a weird one for you - I build Star Wars spaceship art cars to use in charity work at kids’ hospitals and schools, libraries, museums, parades, and more. I dress as Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker for the visits, and the “carfighter” is my ride in, a display piece, and an interactive thing for the kids all in one. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, first with a 1995 Honda Del Sol “H-wing” (retired at 250k miles) and now my 2005 Nissan 350-Z “Z-wing” roadster, which is creeping up on 200k. I design, paint, and add on droids, engines, wings, and enough nurnie detail parts to blur the line between car and spaceship, and the kids love it. Most things I add to it are recycled, and it gives a cool Star Wars battle-worn vibe. Of course I take it to community car shows, sci-fi/comic cons and other types of fundraisers to hang out and display with other movie cars, so something mildly respectable that doesn’t immediately get me laughed out of the show is appreciated.
But it’s also my only car/daily driver for work and errands, so while having something cool that both kids and adults are intrigued by is helpful, something reliable is mandatory. I usually keep the cars for 10 years and 200k, and they get worked pretty hard.
I’d like something sporty, that also conveys a futuristic spaceship feel. Latest tech like cross-traffic monitoring, pedestrian alert and backup cams are good because I’m always surrounded by kids outside the car, or chauffeuring them for Make-A-Wish or other event, and need to be sure they’re as safe as possible. Good sound is helpful, and I usually add external speakers for parades. DVD is cool for showing Star Wars movies at events, but I can always add a tablet later for that. An easy place to mount the 18" diameter R2-D2 dome in the back is helpful, though I can fudge that if necessary. Space to carry tubs or bags of costumes and lightsabers would be great - a backseat or decent trunk is sufficient, and I usually have one person riding shotgun. And of course something mechanically solid enough to handle the high annual mileage I put on it, and the occasional cross-country road trip from LA to Orlando or similar adventure; I want the car to last after doing all that cosmetic work on it.
My past and current cars
Here’s Facebook if you want to check around the galleries:
Budget: Up to $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: West Los Angeles
Wants: Cool and funky that can be a good canvas for a Star Wars-themed art car
Doesn’t want: An SUV or crossover
Hey Shawn, your Star Wars art car thing is a fantastic idea and I’m not just saying that because my seven-year-old really loves Star Wars. However, if I were to ask my son Andrew what you should do he would say that the Dark Side has way more interesting costumes.
So if you are struggling to find a vehicle that is suitable for a Jedi/Resistance theme, perhaps it’s time to change it up to something different. If you were to pivot to a Vader/Sith theme there are a number of options that would fit the bill. Almost any muscle car in black will work with the right accessories.
In fact, I found a 2017 Camaro LT near you that already has some black/red graphics and blacked-out wheels. This car is the four-cylinder turbo and while some may not consider it a “real muscle car” the gas mileage should be pretty decent for all the driving you do, and these Camaros make for pretty comfortable long-distance cruisers.
You know, back when I lived in LA, I’m pretty sure I saw your old astromech-equipped DelSol in traffic a few times, so it’s nice to finally meet you! You’re combining unashamed, weapons-grade geekery with making kids happy, and that’s about the best combination I can think of, so I’m delighted to help here. And I think I have a pretty good solution to your problem: a humble utility van.
While you’ve had fun so far in fighters (small open-top cars) I think it’s time to move up to a shuttle-like vehicle, because then you could outfit the interior to be like the inside of a real Star Wars spaceship, with screens to watch stuff on and some controls to poke and grab!
Luckily, there’s a good, reliable, modern little van that already has a sort of Star Wars aesthetic about it that I think would work well: the first-gen Ford Transit Connect.
These Turkish-built little vans have a cool look about them and plenty of room inside. They’re pretty comfortable to drive and, I think with the proper paint and detailing, could be made wonderfully spaceship-like.
My mockup there has some X-wing type engines on the upper corners and R2 mounted on the hood, but you could put your droid on the roof or whatever—you know what you’re doing for this.
Plus, Transit Connects are cheap! This 2011 one in great shape is only $7,900— use the extra $17,000 or so in your budget to make that interior amazing! Hell, you could probably even sleep in it on your cross-country treks!
I have spoken.
Hm. You’re looking for something practical, new-ish, and very futuristic. My first thought was to ditch the “new-ish” requirement and suggest a 1950s DeSoto, which came in very stormtrooper-grade black-and-white two-tone paint jobs. That’s a different kind of retrofuturism, though, and I might recommend something that’s a bit more up to date.
That would be an electric car! If you’ve been living in LA then you’ve seen just about every EV on the market (and some hydrogen cars, too), but not all of them are tiny Fiats or whatnot. There are actually some good full-sized hatchbacks that could be yours.
You could get yourself an oddball Ford Focus Electric for $17,000, but you might want to up the coin to something that’s less of a low-volume compliance car. Nissan Leafs are more common than you’d think! For a few grand you could find a first-gen car, but for under $20,000 you a get a practically brand-new model, good for 150 miles of range. That’s a lot of stops to recharge if you go cross country, but that just means more stops along the way to plan to say hi to fellow fans.
I realize you’re looking for something modern-ish, but if you’re cool with adding your own aftermarket DVD player and backup camera, then you pretty much have no choice but to buy one of the GM Dustbusters, named after their likeness to the Black & Decker handheld vacuum introduced in the late 1970s.
I’m, of course, referring to the Oldsmobile Silhouette and its siblings, the Pontiac Trans Sport and Chevrolet Lumina APV. All three of these machines look like spaceships, with their wacky split A-Pillars and bizarre, ramp-like front shapes.
They’re quirky, roomy, and cheap, and I can think of few vehicles that would act as better platforms for Star Wars art cars. Just listen to what John Davis from Motor Week has to say in the video above:
“Passersby remarked that it looked more like something the Jetsons would own than an Apple Pie America. The APV is, without question, the most futuristic looking vehicle ever produced by Detroit.”
Futuristic. Cheap. Roomy. Reasonably reliable. I’d buy one. Hell, I almost did.
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