Anthony lives in Pennsylvania and just graduated college with a liberal arts degree. He wants something fun and cheap that “doesn’t make sense” — you know, the Jalopnik way. He figures now is a good time to get a wacky purchase out of his system before he needs to be “responsible.” What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario -
Just graduated from college, but unlike the doctor from last week ago, I like to spend my money wisely, which is why I got myself a smart and sound liberal arts degree (lol). I’ve been working for the past few months and I’ve finally been able to save up a little bit of money to buy a car after years of trying. Since I was raised on this website, my car buying opinions are not what one would consider *ahem* “reasonable.” My motto is that when you’re young and you make a stupid decision you’re young, but when you’re old and you make a stupid decision you’re just stupid. This is why I want to get all the stupid decisions out of the system now that way I’ll be ahead of the curve. This starts with wanting to buy a fun small car that doesn’t make sense, but will make me happy until it doesn’t. I want my first car to be something I enjoy to drive, because out of all the crossovers and SUVs I’ve driven in my life I don’t really know what it’s like to actually enjoy the car you drive. They always say don’t meet your heroes, but I’m willing to learn the hard way.
I’m open to various body styles but I kinda prefer convertibles despite living in Western PA. I don’t know how to drive a stick but I am willing to learn. I could maybe swing up to 10k for this car, but the lower the better. Even though I want something fun and off-beat, it does need to be reliable enough to get me to work on a daily basis.
Budget: Up to $10,000, cheaper is better
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Western Pennsylvania
Wants: Cheap, Fun, Droptop
Doesn’t want: A crossover or something boring
Anthony, this is a great pairing to last week’s topic, and I’ll bet that you will find a lot of camaraderie with folks like myself who “wisely” spent money on a liberal arts degree. I can appreciate your using the years of your youth to get a silly car out of your system, but I have some news for you ... some of us never really outgrow that phase, and that is OK.
Personally, I tend to be a bit more risk-averse, but that doesn’t mean you have to drive something boring. Since you like convertibles, I think you should get a Toyota MR2. It’s a more interesting answer than the Miata, which is fine but predictable, and having a car with an engine behind your shoulders is a great experience, even if it doesn’t make a ton of power. Radwood-era Toyotas with turbos and T-tops go for crazy money, but the cars from the early 2000s don’t get a lot of love. Here is one in Pennsylvania that looks to be in good shape, with only 101,000 miles on the clock at the upper end of your budget. It’s a lightweight drop-top with an easy-to-learn five-speed manual. The best part is that it’s a Toyota. So as long as the car is well cared-for you shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Anthony, you’re going about this just the right way. First, you have a bachelor’s degree, the highest possible degree if you don’t count the ones other than Associate’s degree or Microsoft Certification or something. Anyway, you’re all educated-up, so your residual stupidity needs an outlet, which is why I think you should get a fun, stupid, old British car. Specifically, this cheap Austin-Healey Sprite.
Now, this is a MKIII Sprite, so not the famous Bugeye, but the one that’s basically a clone of an MG Midget. But that’s just fine! It’s only $5,500 and it still looks great, with classic midcentury pontoon styling, just shrunk down to fun-sized.
This little Brit is a goofy little go-kart, and there is no way you’re not going to have a blast each and every time you drive it. This one even runs, and it seems someone has taken some time to upgrade it a bit with a far more reliable Nissan five-speed manual transmission, better seats and a Weber carb.
This thing looks fantastic, and you’ll have so much freaking fun in it. Imagine taking a friend and driving it under an 18-wheeler in a parking lot as this pal screams and nearly shits his pants! Think of yourself weaving gleefully through all the monochrome, boring, bloated SUVs and crossovers in traffic, laughing maniacally as you row through the gears of your little sapphire-colored bathtub, eyes a pair of twin spiral of glee!
This is your car, man. Fly down to Oklahoma and drive it back. Lean into the stupid — make it yours! You’ve earned it!
I absolutely adhere to the idea that your youth is the perfect time to make stupid decisions. It’s part of why I own very few reasonable vehicles. My original thought was “Miata Is Always The Answer,” but I don’t think a Miata is a stupid car.
I present the Honda Beat. It’s a stupid car, a stupidly fun car. This is a car never meant for American roads. Even an older Ford Ranger will absolutely dwarf this tiny convertible. Under the hood is a naturally aspirated three-cylinder engine with a gargantuan displacement of 650cc, so don’t expect to do cross-country journeys with it. Despite that, it sure sounds like it’s impossible to drive one with a frown on your face. It has only 63 ponies on tap so don’t try racing anything faster than a moped, either.
Even better, the Honda Beat is a true right-hand-drive JDM car, and this one comes in well under budget. Be warned, these cars are just as tiny inside as they are outside.
Oh, my friend. Thank you for bringing light into this gloomy, cold day. And congrats on your bachelor’s degree, Anthony! Regardless of which discipline you chose, you have accomplished something worth celebrating. Let’s do that by getting you into the cockpit of a beloved car. I’ve two words for you: Jinba ittai. And the other two words more likely to matter: Mazda Miata.
The ethos behind the Miata’s design is in the phrase above. Mazda strived to recreate a sense of unity between a horse and rider, between car and driver. The best way to do that is with a light-weight, rear-wheel drive sports car. The Miata is not the fastest, but speed alone does not a good car make. Handling is where the magic happens.
This is the answer to your boring car woes. It’s light, grippy, balanced and the antithesis of a crossover. Even if the Miata sacrifices rigidity as a convertible, it handles well overall. It is the predictable choice, but still plenty silly for the vast majority of buyers. It makes sense only within a subset of the driving public, which is to say within this community of lunatics.
This third-generation Miata, or NC, looks well-cared for and is not too far from you. It also comes in under budget with a price of $7,500. It has low miles and a five-speed transmission. With a manual Miata, your days of learning are far from over. You can hone your skills as a driver and do some of your own wrenching. The MX-5 community is vast and can provide vital knowledge. Never meet your heroes is sound advice, but meeting this hero-car is one of the few exceptions to the rule.