Welcome to Used Car Face Off, where we find two similar or similarly priced used cars and ask you which one you would buy. Choose wisely!

One of the great gifts (?) of American automakers has been relentless badge engineering. Another? The 1970s subcompact. Wonderful.


Crap like the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto have long been pasted up as an example of what went wrong when Detroit first tried to change its tune. Those cars will never be cool, and that’s kind of the end to it. But those cars were badge engineered, and can these oddities – after cowering in garages across America, no doubt – be considered classics now? You be the judge.

Mercury is dead and buried and few really lamented its demise. There were really few models in its history that were more than Fords with different badges, save for the ones that were Mazdas or Nissans with different badges. An example of this laziness is evident in the Mercury Bobcat, based on the loathsome Pinto. Made between 1975 and 1980, the Bobcat’s existence seems to be invented just to keep Pinto factories busy.

Still, this 1976 Mercury Bobcat Villager station wagon offers some usability in a period 1970s package. A 69,000-mile example with yellow-on-wood exterior, it comes with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that would form the basis of powerplants in great Fords like the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, Mustang SVO and the Merkur XR4Ti. That engine really got around.


This particular Bobcat is equipped with a CB radio, which was probably a popular in 1976 but has little use today. The seller here says you can do the following with it:

Now you can be driving down the road and talk to truckers, or if your friends get CB's as well you can talk to them without getting a ticket. Or, and this is the greatest feature, you can use the PA speaker to announce your arrival, or to yell at the yuppie in the BMW who just cut you off, or blast talk radio, or use it as a campaign car, the possibilities are endless.

Um... moving on.

The Vega spawned many more alternatives under the General’s form of spreading the engineering wealth. The Pontiac Sunbird and Buick Skyhawk may be more remembered nameplates than the Oldsmobile Starfire, though. Reviving a cool name from a decade earlier, the Vega-derived Starfire was sort of attractive if you looked at it hard enough. Admittedly, I’ve been looking at this clean 1978 Oldsmobile Starfire for sale too long. The red-on-red scheme is even starting to grow on me.

I’ve been on a pretty big Oldsmobile kick and am reminded of how fabulously odd their products became (see last week’s Cutlass Supreme convertible), but the Starfire must be one of the most easily forgotten. This one in particular has 48,000 miles and the (relatively) bombproof Buick V6 that makes some power.

Seriously, I’ve developed an inexplicable affection for the Starfire. It might be the only Vega derivative that doesn’t have Cosworth in the name that has any interest. If I find a Starfire Firenza, I will laugh and point. And then go find my checkbook.