I Need a Family Car That is Cheap And Weird! What Car Should I Buy?

What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Stewart has twin boys who play music and love weird cars. He is looking for something affordable that will draw some attention but still be practical. He is a big fan of Japanese domestic market stuff but isn’t sure those selections would work. What car should he buy?

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Here is the scenario:

I am a dad with twin boys who love everything automotive. We want a car under $10K that can hold three people with reasonable comfort. It needs to be reliable enough to get the back and forth to school and cannot be a sports car. But the twins want to win the coveted “Strangest Car on Campus” award and get their pictures in the school yearbook.

They really love the JDM Nissan Pao that we saw at Duncan Imports. But I am a little worried about the small size of the car and the right-hand drive. But it is totally cool and we all love it. If possible we would prefer something like that but bigger. It needs to seat 3 comfortably and handle musical instruments like guitars and cellos. Also, I wouldn’t want something older than 1989 or terribly unsafe.

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Clemmons, NC

Wants: Practical, Safe, Different, Slightly Newer

Doesn’t want: A sports car

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Subaru To The Rescue!


Stewart, you are definitely getting some “cool dad” points for this one. I see you mentioned the Pao. Jason is not here today because he is currently filming a new episode of Jason Drives, but you can read more about his Pao adventures here. However, it does seem to be a bit small given your need to haul three people and sizable instruments.

As always I am a proponent of the van answer for a family car, but obviously, a Sienna or an Odyssey isn’t going to cut it. There is, of course, the Mitsubishi Delica van, but those are kind of played out at this point with the JDM crowd. I say you go with something even rarer.


The folks at Japanese Classics recently sold this Subaru Sambar Dias van. Just look at this thing! It’s like they turned a fun anime character into a car. It’s got a supercharged motor and AWD. This is the weirdest Subaru your kiddos and their friends will likely ever see.

While this particular car is no longer available, I’m sure Japanese Classics, Gary Duncan, or another importer could find a similar one for you. With a price of $8,249, it’s right on target.


Expert 2: Patrick George - You Came To The Right Place


Initially I was going to suggest you just get a cheap Ford Flex and be done with it, but then you mentioned your love of JDM weirdness. Friend, welcome. This is a safe place.

You sound like you want something fun, cool and useful, but isn’t necessarily hardcore daily driver the way, say, a new Honda Accord would be. A car to be used when you want it, in other words. So I think you may want to consider going a bit older than 1989 if you wanna go the JDM route here—remember, at present that only limits you to cars made before 1993.


Even so, the folks at Duncan Imports (we are not paid to plug them, I swear, they’re just amazing) have a good selection of these Toyota Crown wagons. Until recently I had my eye on one of them as well. As you may or may not know, the Crown is a JDM full-size sedan or wagon that’s been around a while and is close in some ways to the Lexus GS we Americans got. Point is, I could see your kids and their friends getting a huge kick out of climbing around this giant, spacious wagon with boxy looks and a steering wheel on the right. I know if I was a kid—and I grew up in a Cressida wagon family—I’d lose my shit over that.

Here’s a 1993 from Duncan for just $8,963. Get your kids hooked on RWD wagons early on and they’ll be winners for life.


Expert 3: Raphael Orlove - The Pao Had A Big Brother!


I’m doing everything in my power not to recommend buying a used ambulance, which is the go-to move for weirdos who want space and practicality on the cheap. There’s plenty of space, seats, already-built-in storage...but I get why people wouldn’t want to roll around in one.

As such I will point out that the Pao had a big brother, called the S-Cargo. The Pao was one of the Pike Cars, a series of limited-production cars that started with the Be-1 and also included the lovely convertible Figaro. The last of them was a take on the 2CV, and classic European delivery vans of the postwar years. The same platform as the Pao, only it is cute and it looks like a snail. Gary’s got one in your price range, too.


Now, just think if Nissan had made its next proposed Pike Car, the Chapeau.

Expert 4: Erin Marquis - Not Every Man Would Be Able to Pull Off This Van


A Suzuki Every is a kei car of many disguises. It can range from boring, flat white van to pretending to be a VW bus built in this century to a weird little retro Citroen-esque style family mover. It’s a car that has been sold around the world with a variety of names, but always to those seeking a cute and sensible everything-hauler which is what I’m pitching to you as your and you family’s car.

While this is the Regular-sized van and still considered a kei, it is fairly roomy in the passenger compartment and the trunk area. And the nice tough utilitarian flooring is perfect for a family with two energetic boys.


This one from that rascal Gary with just under 50,000 miles stole my heart, even if it’s a little above your price point. This thing is an award winner for sure. You don’t see many vintage Citroen vans rolling around North Carolina, let alone vintage Citroens built in Japan in 2006. It’s modern enough that you know it will safety charter your family around while parts to repair it will be plentiful even if you have to buy them online. It is right-hand drive, which might be disorienting. The infotainment system in Japanese might be even worse. But if you can live with that, for my money (and yours), it’s the cutest and craziest auto you could go for. If that last $1,900 is a problem, I have a suggestion: My twin sister and I used to do a fortune-telling routine in Ann Arbor to get cash. Maybe the boys can put those instruments to good use and come up with some kind of routine to get a little extra coin? It’s worth it to use your freakish genetic relationship to earn a little scratch.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)