I'm A Sucker For Half-Broken And Unique Cars! What Should I Buy?

Photo Credit: Volvo
What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Anthony has five kiddos and is looking for a cheap car, that can fit all the kids in a pinch. He doesn’t mind fixing things up and prefers something that is a bit different. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

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Here is the scenario -

I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for half-broken but unique cars. My current car is a Saab 9-5 aero wagon with peeling paint and enough miles to begin worrying me. That replaced a BMW 5 series sports wagon with a 5 speed, that not only had a monthly payment but cost me twice it’s worth in repair costs. In any case, I love sporty wagons and hot hatchbacks, don’t mind a manual and I’m not afraid of classics and getting my hands dirty.

But, my wife and I just welcomed twins into the family, bringing us to five with our first daughter. We went with the van for my wife’s primary vehicle but for me, I’d like to see something that can seat five in a pinch but is sporty, fun to drive, and won’t kill the college fund when it comes to maintaining it. Since I do my own work, cheap parts are a necessity, but finding that on a three kid budget has proven to be difficult.

I like hatchbacks that have a good backseat and are fun to drive. Anything with a straight six, I like that smoothness. All wagons ever because duh. And I like full size sedans if they don’t wallow around on the road. That’s what I love the most about my BMW wagon, that planted feel and heavy steering.

I only have about $5,000 to spend so it needs to be cheap.

Quick Facts:

Budget: $5,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Ventura, CA

Wants: Cheap, easy to fix, seats 5 in a pinch

Doesn’t want: Something expensive


Expert 1: Tom McParland - Bench Seats For The Win

Image: Craigslist

Anthony, the five seats requirement was tricky , especially since you don’t want another van in the fleet. That leaves either an SUV with three rows of seats or something more “vintage” with a bench in the front. In college, I drove a ‘91 Chevy Lumina with a front bench and six people, including myself, could fairly comfortably do a late-night dinner run.

Since you probably don’t want a worn out GM car from the early ‘90s I think I found something a bit cooler. Here is a 1964 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron, the name just sounds cool. The body looks solid and according to the ad the “motor runs and drives.” The car also has “spare parts in the trunk” that’s always a good thing. While it’s being sold as a “project car” I’m sure someone that kept an aging BMW wagon on the road can get this thing up to speed. Of course, the best part is the massive front and rear bench seats.

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The price is $3,500 and it seems that’s a bit negotiable. This classic Chrysler definitely fits your standard of unique and “half-broken.”

Expert 2: Jason Torchinsky - Oh Hell Yeah

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Oh, Anthony, my man, I can tell we’re gonna be pals. Your desires and goals for this car are beautiful and noble, and I’m so excited to help you out that I couldn’t even limit myself to one option: I have three potential unique and at least half-broken rides for you to consider, and I’m sure I could find even more, but, you know, I got shit to do.

Okay, lets’s get started!

First, you want a good five-seat roomy car? How about something with four doors, six pistons, bench seats, and no fussy radiator? How about a Corvair?

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This 1960 Corvair sedan is completely drivable, the body looks great, it just needs some upholstery and interior work, but since it’s only $3000, you have a whole two grand left in your budget to do whatever you want! Order some vintage Star Wars sheets from eBay and go nuts! Plenty of room for kids and fun in this car that’s guaranteed to be unboring at any speed.

Is a Corvair too, you know, rectilinear for you? I get that. How about something more pleasingly bulbous, like this wonderful 1962 Volvo PV544? It runs and drives, and I can see from the hood-up pic that it’s got the B18B (maybe B16?) engine with the twin SU carbs—the sporty one!

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These old Volvos are bulletproof and honestly fun to drive, with plenty of parts and support around. It’s a two-door, but very roomy inside for everyone. It’s only $4,770 and I don’t even see any rust!

Okay, this last one is a bit out of your budget, but it’s so gloriously odd I felt like you needed to at least see it. It’s $8,000, and likely a bit older than you’re looking for, but still. It’s a 1928 Renault NN1. 

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It’s got that classic old Renault look with the coal-scuttle bonnet, it’s a double-bench seat (honestly, they’re more like sofas) convertible, and it’s really in pretty good shape, considering!

Everything seems to be there, though the engine is sort of, um, apart, but what could be more fun than re-building a 91-year-old French engine? Nothing, that’s what!

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Expert 3: David Tracy - AMC Inline Six + Manual Trans = Joy

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You say the car needs to fit five “in a pinch,” but really, I think you should be looking for a car that all five of you can fit in comfortably. That way, in a few years, when the kids have grown a bit, you can take the whole family out on a fine Sunday afternoon for ice cream or even on a road trip without anyone complaining about legroom. Plus, you don’t want to give yourself a reason to sell this car in the future because it’s become “impractical for a family of five.”

As for your request that this vehicle be reliable and easily maintained, I’m going to suggest that you find something with a nice, tried-and-true inline-six mated to a manual transmission that you can rebuild yourself for dirt cheap in your kitchen (or wherever civilized people with families fix their cars—don’t ask me).

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Browsing your nearby Facebook Marketplace listings brings me to the beautiful red $3,500 1968 Rambler American you see in the picture above. The seller, who’s apparently from Rodeo, California, says the AMC-built Wagon runs and drives, and only has 102,424 on the clock, which is nothing for an AMC inline-six motor provided it’s been reasonably well maintained. Bolted to that unstoppable motor is a three-speed column-shift manual transmission sending power to a solid rear axle.

The vehicle is slow, but it’s simple as can be, will haul you and your family along with all of your stuff, and look mighty fine doing it.

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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)