Todd is tired of navigating the pot-hole minefield of Los Angeles and wrecking his wheels. He wants to get an affordable coupe that he can turn into a safari- style car with more suspension travel and off-road tire goodness. 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:
Los Angeles has become a pothole minefield. I hit one so hard, I think I broke my car. I’m thinking about ‘safari-ing’ a car and could use some suggestions. It needs to be a two-door, preferably with all-wheel-drive. I would go either with a manual or an automatic since LA traffic sucks.
Other than that I’m pretty open to ideas. As for budget, I can spend up to $20,000.
Budget: up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Los Angeles
Wants: Coupe, AWD, something that can be Safari’d
Doesn’t want: Boring
Expert 1: Tom McParland - Look To The Past
Todd, I love this idea. Safari cars are a great trend right now, but what you are basically doing is making a rally car out of a regular car and I’m of the philosophy that every car can be improved by making it a rally car. As you are probably well aware, one of the most legendary rally cars is the Audi Quattro Turbo Coupe. Those old school rally cars had a turbocharged five-cylinder motor and some versions were boosted up to like a billion horsepower or something. That was a car that dominated off-road circuits and it should be your inspiration.
Which is why you need an Audi two-door for this project. Now the TT may be the more interesting choice from a style perspective, the problem is that it has the front-biased Haldex AWD system, whereas the A5 coupe has a longitudinally mounted motor and the more “traditional” quattro system that sends 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels, and 40 percent to the front. The A5 is also a more modern iteration of the classic Quattro Coupe.
There are plenty of these two choose from. Here is one not far with around 60,000 miles for less than $13,000. That’s plenty of money leftover for suspension mods, rally lights, mud flaps, knobby tires, and a big-ass turbo that will likely make the engine explode.
Expert 2: Justin Westbrook - This Isn’t Hard
Step one: Accept that any Safari project is going to be a money pit, so push away any worries of buying a car that’s already a potential money pit.
Step two: Safari a fucking Porsche.
This 2001 911 Carrera 4 AWD I found in Lake Elsinore isn’t exactly an exciting color with grey on silver, but it looks like it’s in good shape with just over 74,000 miles on the clock, has a manual, and it gives you a couple grand left to not get very far on your Safari project, but it’s a start.
The only problem is I want to buy it and leave it alone, as it sort of seems like a pretty good car as-is. But do what you must.
Expert 3: Stef Schrader - Hell Has Officially Frozen Over
If there’s anything my recent Gambler 500 experience has taught me, it’s that you can Safari anything. The more sacrilegious it is, the better. What you need is something that will snap necks and get forum fanboys to ask, “y u rune kalssic???” What you need is...a Subaru?
I found the one modern USDM Subaru that’s as far from car-bro-basic as you can get, with no vaping habit required: the SVX.
The SVX is such a weirdo that it routinely makes roundups of “modern classic” cars, despite its lackluster automatic transmission. That’s easily solvable per one ad for a front-wheel-drive SVX I found, which said you can swap out the transmission for one from a 90s Legacy or a newer STi. I believe that, given that Subaru components are basically Legos for older, dumber hooligans. The oddest combinations bolt together relatively easily and actually work! You’re going to be under the car anyway for this conversion, so do it.
But you don’t want that $500 front-driver. You’re going for maximum heresy here. Spring for the all-wheel-drive version, of which there’s a $4,300 example with a decent-looking interior that still has the original window sticker and a $3,500 two-tone SVX that’s up on its maintenance, both on your coast. Take your resident Subaru person and get a good in-person look at both before handing one the cash.
I love Safari 911s. I love off-road-ready, mud-splattered Audis. But you will make everybody angry and happy at the same time if you Safari up an SVX, guaranteed.
Expert 4: David Tracy - Buy The Original Safari Car
I once wrote the take “Safari All the Cars,” in which I stated that lifting cars and giving them big fender flares makes them look great, but ruins them functionally.
So why ruin a perfectly good car when you can buy one that was, from the onset, designed to offer less than optimal fuel economy and handling? Take the AMC Eagle SX/4—it’s basically an AMC Spirit that’s been lifted, and given some nice fender flares and a sweet four-wheel drive system.
Does it handle as well as the regular car? Does it get as good fuel economy? Maybe not, but none of that matters, because the AMC Eagle SX/4 is the coolest car in the line of AMC Eagles, and that’s saying something.
All AMC Eagles are amazing machines, so just buy one of those instead of ruining a perfectly good Audi A5, Porsche 911, or Subaru SVX.
Expert 5: Patrick George — A Cheap BMW Is Your Answer
You want to safari a car for LA potholes? My friend, that’s overkill. You safari a car because you’re concerned about the end of human civilization, which will inevitably happen in our lifetimes.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t scour the wastelands looking for water and gasoline in style and comfort—or that you can’t enjoy a smooth inline-six engine when you’re searching for settlements to raid. Why not safari a cheap BMW 3 Series? I’d suggest an E36, but you want AWD, and that generation didn’t offer it as an option at all as far as I know. So a slightly newer E46 may be a better option. And I know you want a coupe, but a sedan is so much more practical for water jugs, and the human skulls you will inevitably collect as war-trophies.
I even found a build thread to watch:
Here’s a pretty nice 330xi near you for way under your budget—it’s only $6,800. Pick it up and cruise the apocalypse in style! See you at the Thunderdome, friend.