Alex lives in Vermont and his beloved Saab has gone on to automotive Valhalla. He plays keyboard in a few bands and wants something practical, but unique that can haul his equipment. He has a modest budget but doesn’t mind something older. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
My beloved 2003 Saab 9-5 Aero has kicked the bucket with 230K on it. I work a regular desk job but play in a few bands, and this hobby involves driving all around New England on weekends with the back jam packed with instruments. (Not a jam band though). I need to find a car that can handle the winter, has character (I refuse to drive things like Hondas, Toyotas, etc), and has trunk space and ability to put the seats down to lay long items down in the back.
On the band front specifically, I am a keyboard player and I do that thing where I surround myself with a cage of keyboards on stage. Not only do I need space to lay long keyboards down (6 ft long), I need space for the 2 manual organ I bring, and the keytar, and usually a PA system and other miscellaneous equipment like microphones, etc.
I don’t want something boring like a Honda or Toyota. I would love it to be a manual (more fun to drive, and reduces the # of people who can borrow your car). I would also love for it to be something my favorite mechanic can work on, which includes Saabs, Volvos, Audis, and BMWs. I can spend up to $10,000.
Budget: up to $10,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Windsor, Vermont
Wants: Unique, Practical, Manual
Doesn’t want: A Honda or Toyota
Alex, you are looking for a cheap and unique car with a preference for a manual. It seems you have come to the right place. Of course, the natural downside to the cheap and unique combination is you often give up some semblance of reliability, but hey that’s the life we lead.
You clearly loved your Saab and I don’t see a reason for you to deviate from your Swedish preferences. While there are a number of quality Volvo XC70s in the region that would be well-suited for your task, this 2006 Saab 95 SportCombi with a manual hits the right notes.
With only 122,000 miles on the clock at a reasonable $3,900, this Saab should give you plenty of buffer in your budget to bring any components up to par. This is a front-wheel-drive wagon, but it already has a set of studded snow tires mounted with the seller providing some warm weather rubber as well. While it seems like a clean example, it does have a rebuilt title, so there is some risk on this one.
Alex, you’ve got a fun problem here, with a lot of good, interesting solutions. So good, in fact, that I didn’t want to pick one, so I’ve got two here for you, at either side of your money-to-spendectrum. Spend-spectrum? You know what I’m getting at. One is a $3000 manual Volvo 240 wagon, the other is a $10,000 VW Bus.
Let’s do the bus first. I’m irrationally partial to old air-cooled VWs, and it’s only really gotten truly irrational over the past few years when the price of these old buses has shot up insanely. This 1971 Westfalia hardtop (as in it doesn’t pop up) camper is at your upper limit of $10,000, which is, insanely, not too terrible a price for a well-kept Microbus these days.
Actually, it looks like there’s a 50 cent piece on the shifter, so I guess it’s really only $9,999.50!
This one looks very nice—the interior has a nice simple camper setup, but it looks like everything folds down to either turn into a bed or hold the longest keyboards imaginable.
From a haul-your-shit perspective, this one is hard to beat, and being able to sleep in it is a nice bonus. It looks like it’s full of new parts, the engine only has 3,000 miles since a rebuild, and, really, there’s no reason why this thing couldn’t be a totally fun and usable machine for you, with a healthy understanding of its quirks and limits.
Now, I have an alternative, because I know old buses just aren’t the driving experience everyone is comfortable with. So, with that in mind, what about this $3,000 1985 Volvo wagon?
It’s a fairly rare five-speed, and while there’s no pics of the interior, for only $3 grand you can spend a bit on seat covers or whatever if you have to. I had one of these, and they’re great—tons of keyboard-cramming room, fairly bulletproof engines, fun to drive, plenty of resources and support out there.
I think you’d do great with either of these! Or, both!
As you may know, my two previous editor-in-chiefs have banned me from recommending Jeeps in What Car Should You Buy articles, but we have a new, Willys-owning EIC, and I’m pretty sure that means the ban is lifted.
So allow me to recommend a Jeep Cherokee Chief. That’s my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle stopping at a fuel station in the middle of the only drive I ever had a chance to enjoy prior to pulling the engine.
SJ-platform Jeep Cherokees are beautiful, lifted shooting brakes. They’re big enough to swallow all of your instruments, their four-wheel drive systems will conquer any snow you aim them at, you can find them with manual transmissions, you can buy decent examples for well under $10,000, and they can be repaired with nothing more than a half-inch and a 9/16-inch wrench.
Sure, you’ll struggle to get 13 mpg, but it’s fine. Gas is cheap, so buy the Jeep. It’s a motto to live by.
Hi Alex. The good news is you have a lot of good choices not found on this list. I was considering a 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo, and then I thought maybe you needed a Band Truck, like this Tacoma. But then I remembered you wouldn’t be caught dead in that.
And so obviously I thought wagon, but you’ve done the European wagon thing. Still, this E46 wagon with a stick near you ain’t a bad consideration.
But no—what I finally landed on is a little roomier than the E46 wag. You need a BMW X3. Did you know they made it with a manual? So that checks out. And there’s one in New York for $6,600!
I have my suspicions about the listing, because there are no actual images of the X3 in question, but in concept it’s a great idea.
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