Erin is a badass auto-journo from the Motor City who just landed a sweet gig on this fine website, managing its staff of upstanding highly functional people and Jason Torchinsky. Only one problem: at the moment she happens to be in-between cars. But this is less a problem and more of an opportunity to get something Jalop-worthy. What should she buy?
Erin used to work at another car website. The name escapes me at the moment, but I believe they write some blogs about autos. Now she is one of us and is very excited about being able to use the word “fuck” in headlines.
She used to own a faithful Saturn for eight years with well over 180,000 miles—the damn thing just wouldn’t die—but around the time she took this job she happened to be in the car market after giving that car to a family member.
What better way to figure out what to get than to ask the readers? Since manual-diesel Miatawagon is not an actual thing, we have to figure out the next best choice.
Here is the scenario:
I grew up in Detroit, steeped in the weird and wonderful history of the auto industry. As a kid my favorite way to spend the day was to go to the Henry Ford Museum. We’d spend a full Saturday at least once a month gawking at long forgotten concepts and race cars. My dad also fostered my love of classic cars by taking us kids to the dirt lot shows. Wherever we were off to was suddenly irrelevant once he spotted a hand drawn poster mounted on a chain-linked fence announcing ‘Classic Car Show - TODAY!’
I cut my teeth on Detroit steel. A Lincoln Mark II or a late ‘50s Thunderbird still to this day evokes feelings of summer and childhood as if I grew up riding in these cars, rather than just ogling them. Even as a knee-high enthusiast, I knew I was hooked for life. Cars are rolling lessons in history, art, design and engineering. Every car, like every person, has a story to tell. There’s just so much to love.
I need something interesting and practical. I live in an area where insurance costs are the highest in the nation, so whatever I get should be safe and considered cheap to insure. I’d like something unique, small, reliable and yet fun to drive.
A stick would be excellent, as I live in a city with high crime and car thieves can’t drive stick (because they lack honor) but not a requirement. I have a small dog and don’t need to haul anything at the moment. I go on a couple of road trips every year, but really just need something for city driving and grocery-getting.
I like things that are weird and different. I don’t want a Nissan Altima in Give-Up Grey. My ideal car? Something with personality, flare, and is fun to drive. Excellent off-roading capabilities will be lost on me, and I don’t need anything too insanely fast. Just a car I can drive every day that reminds me I’m alive. No soulless CVTs please.
Budget: $15,000 - $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: Less than 100
Wants: Fun, unique, and reliable
Doesn’t want: A boring car or a CVT
Erin, you know how this goes. I’m the one that will suggest a car that you should actually buy and the rest of these goofballs will come up with some other stupid insane rides, none of which will fit your important criteria and probably leave you stranded in the harsh Detroit winters.
For around $20,000 you can have yourself a very nice, lightly used Mazda3. This might be the most cliché choice for an automotive writer—all of us seem to own this, or a Miata, or a GTI—but just because everyone has one doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
It’s not as performance-oriented as a GTI or a Mini Cooper, but it’s also not as expensive to keep on the road either. And while the chassis and suspension tuning are dialed in for spirited driving, the Mazda3 isn’t going to feel harsh over roads that are in desperate need of repair.
You get one with either a six-speed manual or a quite excellent six-speed automatic. It’s also worth spending a little more for the beefier 2.5-liter motor. A relatively new Mazda3 will also have features, that while minor, will make a big difference as a daily driver, things like heated seats, Bluetooth, and a half-decent stereo.
So go ahead and see what your other colleagues have to say. You will have a sensible chuckle at their offbeat suggestions and at the end of the day put a nice Mazda3 in your driveway.
Glad to have you aboard, Erin! Now let’s cut the bullshit and wake the fuck up about what’s going on here: you’re at Jalopnik now, and you need a weird-ass car that will probably put you into occasional confusing and complicated situations, which will get you stories.
This is a Jalopnik tradition: look at David nursing that zombie Jeep across the country, or Raph getting feasted upon by desert weasels because he bought a VW with an engine made of cheese, or my Beetle getting stolen or trying to resurrect my mummified Scimitar or Andrew peeing in the radiator of his Scout or Stef flipping some cobbled-together deathtrap at a Lemons race.
You get the picture. You need an interesting car, and some Mazda 3 isn’t going to cut it.
I’m not a monster, though! I’ll meet as many of your stated criteria as I can: small, reliable, fun, stick, interesting, hell, it’s even a Mazda just like Tom’s painfully rational choice. It’s a 1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1.
You’ll be importing it from Japan, but that’s fine, since it’s 25 years old and should be legal to register. It’s over a million yen, but that comes to about $10,700, which is within the budget you told me on Slack, even with a couple grand thrown in for shipping.
Sure, it’s got gull wings and looks like an exotic supercar that’s been zapped with both the dreaded 7/8-scale shrink-ray and the intense-cutification ray, but I don’t think it’ll be too sporty for you. Mostly because it has a 660cc engine that tops out at a healthy 64 horsepower.
This car is pretty much what Jalopnik, Inc. would issue to managing editors as a company car if the world was just a bit better.
You’re a Jalop now. Get the Autozam.
You say excellent off-roading capabilities would be lost on you, but I’ve also heard horror stories about Michigan roads. The fat sidewalls of a Volkswagen Type 3 built for Baja would certainly come in handy.
I’ll be frank: yes, I have ulterior motives here. I have neither the space, the room or the money to take on a new toy at this very moment, yet a car I’ve written up as “my spirit animal” is for sale again, taunting me at only $9,500 on The Samba. You should buy this so I don’t.
This is a 1967 Volkswagen Type 3 with a larger 2,600-cc engine from a Volkswagen Type 4 in the back. I raced a Type 4-swapped Type 3 in the 24 Hours of LeMons once, and I’ve spent every second of my life since then wishing I could have one myself. They’re hilarious fun—like a fat, slow 911. The engine over the rear wheels is a hoot in the dirt—giving you traction in a straight line and delightful tail-happiness in turns.
I know, I know, there’s off-road talk again, but you work here now, and is there any higher Jalop pursuit than flogging a vintage Volkswagen in the dirt? I’m going to say no. You get snow up there, too. Snow! This VW would do snow-nuts all day long.
As another remote, I have to admit: you don’t really need a super-practical, reliable car. I keep thinking about forcing myself to daily-drive my Porsche 944 LeMons car just to annoy myself into fixing it, for Pete’s sake—and that thing has no windows except a windshield. That’s how little driving I do working from home. It’s truly the most mixed blessing of all, as I’m glad not to have to deal with Austin’s garbage traffic, but my car also ends up sitting for way too long at a time. Sometimes my only human contact is the dude at the coffee shop. Wait, why don’t I have something more fun, like a Baja Type 3?
Seriously, remove all temptation from the Internet and buy this car. Also, please make sure it’s kept tidy and free of salt as much as possible because I probably will make an offer on it at some point. Fair warning.
You had a Saturn for almost 10 years and 180,000 miles? People in Detroit are insane. Long after the rest of the world moved on to Accords and Muranos, they’re still nursing Ford EXPs and Buick Rendezvous-es and Oldsmobile Achievas that someone in the family got a mad discount on. Anyway, it’s time to move on.
Since we don’t drive normal cars here, I was going to suggest this heckin’ good 1990 Nissan Sileighty—imported from Japan, right-hand drive—from our friends at Japanese Classics LLC. It’s just $10,995, which is an absolute steal for an more or less unmolested Silvia/240SX/180SX from any country. Then I remembered you live in Detroit and thus the poor car would probably have eggs thrown on it. What a shitty way to say welcome to America!
No, we need you in some proper Motor City muscle, and something other than highly questionable Jeeps. The answer is clear: Chevy Camaro IROC-Z. Not surprisingly there’s like a shit-ton of these things in your area.
Here’s a super clean red one with just 61,500 miles on the clock for only $8,900. Own the best-looking Camaro ever (fight me) for way under your budget. This is the correct answer and everyone else is lying to you.