Image credit: Kristen Lee/Jalopnik
What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Derek is from Canada and has a budget that could easily score him a pretty nice new car, but he would rather turn back the clock and get something with style and class from the 1980s or the 1990s. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario:

It seems like all the cars today look the same. They are fine and you can get some good values in terms of technology and performance, but it’s hard to get something that has some real style unless you spend a few hundred grand. Back in the day, you can get some style without paying a fortune.

I want to buy a good classic vehicle that’ll look cool and I’m willing to spend up to $30,000. It would preferably a coupe from the ‘80s or ‘90s and likely be European. Even though I live in Canada a rear-drive car would be fine, I don’t get that much snow, it would also be great if this car had a manual transmission.

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $30,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Vancouver, BC

Wants: Style, class, and performance

Doesn’t want: Something with poor interior quality.

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Was Not Cool Then, But Knows What Is Cool Now


Derek, I think many of us can sympathize with your desire to return to a simpler time when you could buy CDs and didn’t face a daily barrage of bad tweets. Or really any tweets, for that matter.

Cars were built differently back then—some were even “over-engineered” as they say. But if you are going to go for this ’80s/’90s European coupe thing, you better do it to the max. You need two things in addition to your list of requirements: a rad color and flip-up headlights. And I have the car for you.


This is is a 1992 BMW 850i. It has a V12 which is perfect for the decade of excess and is paired with a manual transmission. It’s big, it’s German, and it’s got style and speed. It also looks like it’s been well kept, but the two best features of this car are the aforementioned pop-up headlights and the color. The Autotrader listing says “green” but we all know this is pure ‘90s teal.

Get yourself some Ray-Ban shades and a sweet Oakley windbreaker so you can rock this BMW properly. Also, set aside some cash for repairs because that V12 is known to be finicky, but being rad doesn’t always come cheap.


Expert 2: Patrick George - It’s All About Making That GTA


Derek! My man! This is a wonderful question, a question after my own heart. This is my favorite era for cars too and a big reason I wanted Jalopnik to hook up with the folks at Radwood. It’s a time of style, technology, excitement and something still pretty close to modern comfort, all before infotainment screens and cross-traffic warning alerts made cars into rolling nuisances.


Anyway, you want something rad and European, and at $30,000 you have a lot of options here. I could suggest a BMW, Audi or Mercedes, but you seem to be a man of taste and style—you also live in Canada, so I think something specifically French instead of German may be slightly more appropriate for you.

How about an Alpine GTA or its later successor, the A610? This, my friend, is an interesting car. And a rad one. Built by Renault’s Alpine brand from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, it was made to compete with Porsches in its day, and it... well, it probably fell short of that goal. But! It’s wonderful in so many ways. It has striking looks. The interior is posh and comfortable. It’s got a back seat, unlike so many sports cars. The engine is in the REAR where it BELONGS on a car, and later ones packed the best version of the ubiquitous PRV V6 there ever was—a 3.0-liter turbo with 250 horsepower. And it can be had with a true manual gearbox. These are rare, but as such, I guarantee it will garner you some truly rad attention at the next car show you attend.


I found you one for sale in Canada with 73,000 kilometers for just $16,900. That’s way under your budget, and you can spend the rest on parts and repairs. Go live the Alpine life and never look back.

Expert 3: Kristen Lee - Esprit Dreams (Are Made Of This)


You want a car that looks like a door-stopper, Derek. A wedge that drives itself (heh) between you and all of your other sensible, car-owning sheeple-friends. What you need is a Lotus Esprit Turbo.

I’m aware that Lotus eventually went to a V8 with the Esprit, but the ‘80's 2.2-liter four-cylinder Turbo is the one you want, with about 280 horsepower available on overboost. Look at the decals! Experience the lag! Be blinded by the window louvers! This is what it’s about, my friend.


Will absolutely everything go wrong with the Turbo Esprit? Most likely, considering that it is a Lotus. But consider everyone else who has Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris from the ‘80's and ‘90's. You don’t really see many Esprits around, do you? No sacrifice, no return. Plus, it was re-designed by Peter Stevens, who went on to do the McLaren F1.

That should be all the reason you need.

Here, I found you a red one with under 50,000 miles for $21,900.

(For what it’s worth I also suggest a Mercedes-Benz R129 SL; there are a lot of cars to choose from here and the staff got into a big fight about what to pick.)


Expert 4: Raphael Orlove - Time To Die In This Viper 

Photo: Craigslist. Illustration: Alex Hevesy

Yes, yes, the cars of Europe in this time period are wonderful expressions of automotive engineering. They are charming and classy and (with the exception of the Esprit) probably not made by people who were completely toasted on the assembly line.

But screw Europe. Buy this Viper.

I know that you specifically said that you don’t want a bad interior in your car, but you’re not really going to get a good interior in even the best-condition Viper on the market. Dodge was making its plastics out of melted-down Playmobil sets that washed up on the Detroit river at the time.


But the rest of the ethos of the time period was present. Dodge had clawed its way out of a financial hole with K Cars and the minivan, and it was on a brief high point. That’s why the world was blessed with a stupid, loud, awesome, joyous V10 sports car, with plastic windows and chrome wheels.

This 1993 car is for sale in dry Arizona for $31,500. It’s either highlighter green or some kind of pale yellow. Walking up to it with keys in hand must be some kind of pump-me-up. Getting into a yellow Viper is like getting slapped around before getting into the boxing ring, just psyching you up.


Catch a flight down to this thing and road trip it back through the expanses of the West. You won’t regret it, so long as you bring earplugs.

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

Share This Story

Get our newsletter