Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Marve's Do-Over Drive: The $1,000 Challenge

This next feature comes from Marve Harwell, who raised his hand when we recently asked for contributors.  Take it away Marve!

What if your life suddenly became a country song; you lost your job and your dog drove away with your wife and pick-up truck, leaving you with nothing but bad credit. You have to start over in a new town with just a bag full of bitter memories and thousand bucks to secure transportation.  I have assembled for your consideration four examples of what one G can buy in various parts of this land of opportunity. I'll offer my own observations but which one of these wagons of woe would you choose if you were starting over?

If you lack imagination your second life may take you to Harrisburg, Pa to start an exciting career managing the snack bar at the state capitol building. You're going to need a practical ride with some zing after slinging tater tots for state reps all day.

We start with a 1999 Ford Escort ZX2. The ZX2 was coupe version of the last generation Escort powered by the stalwart Zetec 2.0 engine, and Mazda sourced 5-speed gear box. The Scort offered 30 plus MPG's and performance that could be described as unapologetic.

This particular ZX2 is sporting 170,000 miles and no maintenance history, unknown interior condition, and only one picture all promising that spicy bite of mystery. It also requires some negotiation to bring its $1200 asking price below our $1000 price cap. But hey, this college girl carrier offers a plethora of cheap junk yard parts. Go ahead, splurge on the name brand Mac and Cheese with the money you save.

Seize the opportunity a second chance offers you to pursue your secret ambition to open a comic book store in Spokane Washington.  You're going to need something northwest rugged but non-threatening, a vehicle that can be gassed up with the proceeds from the sale of one Green Lantern #10 in hardly-read condition.

How about this 1990 Daihatsu Rocky? It's a 4X4 with manual locking hubs, 5-speed, and a 1.6L powerplant with about 90 HP on tap. Sure it has 250K miles on the clock but it comes with another partially disassembled Rocky that can serve as a parts car and double as a display rack for post-apocalyptic graphic novels.
The seller says the little ute wanders a bit on the highway but so will the conversations of your customers as they discuss the outcome of a fight between Gandalf and Harry Potter.  

The Rocky was called the Lovibond in Japan, which may be the only love your new profession will garner, but at least you can fill the lonely evenings tracking down spare parts for this rare Pokemon of an SUV.

Tucson Arizona may find you sleeping on your grandparents couch in their nondescript retirement community of manufactured homes, you know, just until you're back on your feet.  After a month of mid-day Bingo and eating dinner at 4, you're ready for a little independence.

This 1998 Chevy Astro van may be just the ticket. The Astro was the last body on frame minivan, boasting up to 6000 pound towing, seating for eight, and a 190 HP 4.3 L V6. This one is a hundred bucks north of our $1K ceiling but offers the eternal hope of best offer. I'd bring eight C-notes and tell grandpa to not wait for me as I'll be driving home in this 105,000 mile beauty.

You can amuse yourself driving this van through residential neighborhoods and watch nervous mothers pull their children into the house at your approach. The other bonus is all the new friends you make as you're frequently “hauled in for questioning” along with a dozen or so other white van suspects. The Astro won't be kind to you at the gas pump but you could always pick up a few bucks hauling ex-cons to their probation hearings.

Finally, we're California dreaming. You cannot ply the highways of the golden state in anything but a convertible. In this case we have a little red 1994 Mercury Capri for the princely sum of $700 in Palm Springs. I just hope the ex-wife left you the shirt on your back because you're going to need it as the seller admits the rag top is just that, a rag.

The Capri was Ford's way of competing with corporate partner Mazda and its red hot Miata without really trying too hard. The Capri was a front wheel drive convertible based on the Mazda 323 and powered by the Miata's 1.6 L four cylinder in either turbo or normally aspirated trim. It was so successful Ford pulled the plug after just four model years.

This example is the 100 HP non-turbo variant with manual transmission, 144,000 miles, and displaying the evidence of the owners poor depth perception on its tattered bumper. Just park the bad side away from the windows at your movie audition. The Capri's signature pop up headlights characteristically don't. People who have owned Capris (I'm not admitting to anything here) know the headlight motors just need taken apart and the copper discs cleaned with Brasso to wink like new again.  The seller doesn't say if the Capri can pass the pesky California smog test, but you have $300 in change to fix it if it doesn't, right?

So which one of these thousand dollar do-over drives would you choose to carry you to that new horizon? Comments below. Got a tip for us?

Marve Harwell is a former Army journalist and life-long wandering car nut.

DT E-i-C Vince: Big thanks to Marve for writing this piece; expect more of this kind of comparison in the future.


  1. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say the Capri convertible is really just a Miata with fwd and some horrendous
    glasses on ...kinda like the pretty girl no one notices because of the braces and glasses, and the extra 300, like you
    said will go to fix any incidentals, or more gas, while prices are down, if nothing breaks.

  2. I have to go wit da Ford on the top of the list.. but loose the PA. for Vermont's White Mountains.

  3. Locally I can pick up (verified on CL) running F150s all day long for a grand. Most need tires though.

    Non-generic I'd go for this pimp Thunderbird

    1. Oh the fat boy T-bird, pimp-tastic! All that luxury and 8 MPG.

  4. Welcome Marve,
    I would take the van. These vans can go well past 250,000 miles with just maintenance. (I know, one was the family truckster a long while back) Then save for that "fill in the blank".

    1. Did I say "Chicks dig vans" ? Yep, they will be flocking to meet you.
      Your new life will be in the fast lane! (Well figuratively speaking anyway)

  5. Great job, Marve! Just my sort of cars.

    1. There are some things that even MasterCard can't buy. For K2 that would be an official Kaibreezy logo. Priceless!

    2. K2 deserved a badge for sustained effort - commenting on the podcast and writing an excellent guest post got me off my duff to get it done - who will be next???

  6. I'll take the van for eight hunnered, please...
    Had one as a work vehicle in the early nineties. Couldn't kill the thing. Believe me, I tried.
    Had all the dogs howling and chasing after me with those nifty hubcaps.

  7. Might as well take your thousand dollars and set fire to it.

    Thousand Dollar Car - Bottle Rockets

  8. A grand can buy you a heck of a lot of car, as Marve pointed out in his article. Literally, the sky is the limit if you do your research, due diligence and choose wisely. Here are some more examples of vehicles that would be a great place to start a search with.

    With a thousand dollar car, you're interested in as simple mechanics as you can get. Common expectations such as being picky about color, options and perfection are not realistic. Getting a decent car for that amount of money is, though. It can be done in most parts of the country all day, every day.

    The beauty is, if you get the right car, you'll lose less money than any other car purchased by anybody else you know. And when you're done, often you can sell it for as much or even more than you bought it for. I did exactly that with several cars.

  9. I'd go to Spokane, get that Daihatsu. I'd get a hitch-mounted bike rack and spend most of my free time mountain biking. Added bonus: keep the bike on it for emergency transportation.

  10. I'd go with the van. As mentioned earlier, they're good for 250,000 miles and even get decent mileage, 23-24 highway. The big added plus is that you no longer need to waste money on an apartment. Just throw a mattress in the back! If this was closer to me, I'd probably pick it up for the dogs. After all, it has lower mileage than their current minivan and has more room.

    1. The AWD versions are known to be hungry when it comes to swallowing transmissions... Not so the RWD ones.

  11. I like the Rocky also but does have high mileage, A friend just picked up a 94 F-150 4 wheel drive with the
    300/6 5speed for $700.00 looks pretty straight while cleaning the interior he found a wallet no ID with $50 bucks in it !
    So i gots to ask any REBATES ? ROFL

    1. Ha! With some of these sub $1K cars there's enough ash tray change to get 20% of your purchase price back. That Ford 300 straight six is a great mill, as complicated as a cave painting but tough as nails.


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