I'm a Future Naval Aviator! What Car Should I Buy?

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Mitch (not pictured) is entering the Navy to become an officer and eventually a pilot. Naturally, he has a need for speed, but also wants something for outdoor adventures for around $25,000. What car should he buy?


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Here is the scenario:

I’m almost 26 and switching careers (my engagement fell through and I’m chasing a dream), from healthcare finance to aviation. Soon, I will be shipping out for Navy Officer Candidate School, then off to flight school for two years. I currently own a 2015 5.7L Toyota Tundra, which I still owe on my loan. I just received an offer from a local dealership for almost what I originally agreed to paid for it (offer expires in two weeks).

As I begin to think long-term I am unsure if it is truly worth holding on to the truck as I will hardly be using it for the next three years while going through rigorous training/flight school. I am an outdoorsy person and love to drive on the nearest beaches for camping and surfing. Although, I am a gearhead and always wanted a daily/track day/night on the town/fun kind of vehicle. The only two cars I have owned have been a 2003 Tacoma Prerunner and this Tundra. However, I am open to other makes. I’d like 4 wheel drive since I live in the Northeast. I do the majority of the maintenance myself and am up for a challenge but, something decently reliable would make live easier.

I imagine this car will be soaking up sun seven days a week and I don’t want to have to worry about dings and scratches. My ex-fiance took my beloved dog so I’ll need room for another in the future. I also help my mother maintain a few rental properties. Growing up I loved anything Japanese (use to live in Okinawa as a kid in a Navy family). Recently have fallen in love with the 70s BMW 2002 because of its combination of style, decent MPG, and that they are engaging to drive. I love old Chevy trucks too!

My budget max would be $25,000. I love classics, can work three pedals, and don’t want to blend in with all the other econoboxes rolling around. What are my options?

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $25,000

Daily Driver: Sort of

Location: Annapolis, MD

Wants: Fun, 4WD/AWD, Good for activities

Doesn’t want: A bland commuter car

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Be A Maverick

Image for article titled I'm a Future Naval Aviator! What Car Should I Buy?

Mitch, you are a future pilot that shares a name (sort of) with what is the most famous fictional Naval aviator ever, so you can’t drive just any car. Since you like your Japanese cars and need something all-wheel drive, the natural choice here is Subaru. But anyone can roll into their local dealer and plop down the cash on a brand new WRX. Those are fun and fast, but that’s the easy choice. You didn’t choose the military because you are interested in easy choices.

Because of your love of older Japanese cars from your time in Okinawa, I say go the JDM route. Friend of Jalopnik Gary Duncan and respected importer Japanese Classics are both not far from you. I bet either one of them could find you an Impreza from the ‘90s complete with massive fog lights, big wing, and hood scoop. This one fantastic rally blue one sold for under $17,000 and I’m sure there are similar ones to be had.


So instead of an overpowered sportbike and you can be the fighter pilot that rocks a right-hand-drive rally car.

Expert 2: Patrick George - Let This Be Your Wingman

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Initially I was going to suggest a new or new-ish Jeep Wrangler for your fun runabout 4x4 beach cruiser, but that is pretty common. So I concur with Tom here that your best option is to go JDM, but I don’t think a Subaru will quite cut it.

How about... well, really any number of those small, boxy two-door Japanese SUVs that were so common in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Specifically, I suggest a Mitsubishi Pajero. They’re tough, easy to get parts for online and way more interesting than your average Jeep. You’ll probably have to do some wrenching yourself, but you don’t seem scared by that. It’s truly part of the fun.


Our pal Gary Duncan has several for sale at way under your budget, but I especially like this one for $10,999. A fine machine, if I do say so myself.

Expert 3: David Tracy - You Need A Truck

Image for article titled I'm a Future Naval Aviator! What Car Should I Buy?

I hit up my friend for some advice on this one, since he’s a naval aviator, and he suggested a Honda Ridgeline. Based on how he uses his vehicles, I think it’s a solid choice.

Since college, my friend has owned two cars: a 2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI and now a 2016 Toyota Tacoma. Of the two, the first one’s been sitting in his garage forever and will eventually be sold, while the second one is his daily driver, suiting his lifestyle pretty much perfectly.


With all the frequent relocations, owning a truck that can easily carry a bunch of junk makes loads of sense. It also makes a lot of sense for that truck to have a quad-cab with enough space for friends, of which you—as part of a tight-knit navy community—will have many.

My friend drives a lot. Not just because of the relocations, but also because a number of navy air stations are out in the middle of nowhere, requiring long drives to get somewhere fun for the weekends. And while he loves his Taco, the Ridgeline, with its better ride comfort and fuel economy, might be the better play for the long road trips.


The Ridgeline also comes with optional in-bed speakers and an in-bed storage area that can fit plenty of ice and beers. And believe me, as a naval aviator, this will come in handy. Pilots love to party.

The only downside to the Ridgeline is that finding one under $25,000 is a bit tough, since the truck came out so recently. So perhaps the move is to just keep your Tundra for now, or, if you’re feeling a bit crazy, you can do what I’d do, and buy a 500 horsepower Ram SRT-10. Because what could possibly be better than capping off a day of flying with a few smoky burnouts? Answer: literally nothing.


Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky - Something Something Top Gun Reference Something

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Hey, Mitch, look, you answered your own question already: “I have recently fallen in love with the 70s BMW 2002 because of its combination of style, decent MPG, and that they are engaging to drive.” What kind of monster would suggest you get anything other than the car you just proclaimed to love? You should get a BMW 2002—but, with a little twist that’ll make it even better for your life: a BMW 2002 Touring. 

The 2002 Touring was, basically, the hatchback 2002. It’s incredibly rare here in America—well, really, it was never common anywhere, and I think it’s the coolest of all the already very cool 2002s. You get all that great 2002 character and driving feel along with the practicality of a hatch, which will be great for that new hypothetical dog of yours.


This 1971 BMW 2002 Touring looks fantastic, and while, yeah, you’ll have to ship it over from Germany, at $13,672 it’s still completely within your budget even after factoring in shipping and registration costs. It’s old enough that no one should hassle you registering it anywhere, and, while it doesn’t have 4WD, just put a good set of snow tires on it when you need them and you’ll be just fine.

It’s easy to work on, oozes character out of every possible seam, drives great, looks fantastic. What more do you want? Navally navigate your ass to this little jewel and I’m positive you’ll be a happy man.



Ah, not to be a wet blanket...Okay, I’m being a wet blanket.

I went through Navy Officer Candidate School in good old Newport some years back, and there’s a high attrition rate for designated Naval Aviators there. Slight eyesight deficiencies and blood pressure funkiness knock a lot of folks out of contention while they’re there, which is hard news to take in the middle of all the general abuse and exhaustion. I’ll never forget my roommate curled up weeping halfway through OCS when he got the news that someone somewhere decided they didn’t like his eyesight after all (despite passing the tests). After loving flying all his life, going to an expensive aeronautics-focused university... from being a potential brownshoe to blackshoe Surface guy. Ouch.

Anyway, the topic of the “Ensignmobile” is a popular one at OCS. BMWs are common choices, as are too-big trucks. The best Ensignmobile is the one you currently have. Bank that untaxed housing allowance. Wait till you make Lieutenant. Let the enlisteds see you driving something with a few miles on it, and you’ll earn even more respect. If you have a CO with an old shitbox, then you have a good CO.

Oh, and never admit to ever having been sick with anything at any point in your life. “That’s right, I’ve never even had a cold.” One of my buddies forgot that during flight school and said he’d had some headaches when he was a kid. They literally shredded his flight jacket, boots and flight suit when he was disenrolled and re-designated.