I’ve been a fan of Road & Track magazine since I was around 14 and started to find it more interesting than Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics, which I’d been reading since I was 11 or so. Along with Car and Driver it has been the major force in my automotive tastes and outlook. Lately, I’ve been leaning more towards British magazines as they don’t (at least some of them) confine themselves just to new, fearfully expensive new cars. I can barely stand to read another test of some $100,000 plus hyper car, complete with lap times, I’ll never have a chance to drive on the street, much less the Nurburgring. Any speed over 100 mph is, for me, academic. I’m more concerned about the experience of driving than the pride of ownership or bragging rights.
This month’s Road & Track is running a comparison test between a new Scion FR-6 and a Used 2005-2008 Porsche Boxster. They make the point that the Scion is probably the rational choice, but their entire staff was unanimous in preferring a used Boxster to a new Scion. They do recite what has been my mantra for the past five years or so: cars last longer now, that you can likely afford a nicer used car than buying brand new can provide on the same budget, etc.
They just don’t take it far enough. From my financial standpoint, any $30,000 car is not an “affordable” purchase. For one, you’re going (or at I am) to have to finance it and unless you have a large down payment, you’re looking at something around $500 a month.
For my money, there are plenty of cars in the $4,000 to $16,000 range that can provide automotive entertainment in the same league as the $30,000 examples in the September Road & Track. My current daily driver is a 15 year old 1998 BMW Z3 with 105,000 miles. I currently have less than $8,000 invested in it and have been slowly updating the suspension and replacing anything I find that’s worn or might become a problem in the near future. I bought it for $6,500 and so, far I’ve found most parts for it quite reasonable, from numerous aftermarket sources.
Along the way, I’m making changes to tailor the car to my tastes, like adding a shock tower brace and performance bushings when I replaced most of the front suspension with the exception of the steering rack. The Z3’s performance envelope is fairly close to the Scion, comes with the advantage of having a charismatic 6 cylinder motor, and a LOT more midrange torque. And, I live in San Diego and the top folds back. The fact there’s a picture of it below means I also like to look at it.
If one is set on a Boxter, there are plenty of them with less than 40,000 miles on them that are around $15,000, even a few S models for a little more. Myself, I looked at a few in the $10,000 range, before deciding that I was more of a front engine roadster guy, and that if I was going to work on the car myself, it would be an advantage to have a car where you could actually see the motor when you opened the hood. But they are wonderful cars and you can still find a nice example for a low as $8,000 if one is patient. One thing about cars like this is that a lot of people use them only for fun, and don’t drive them a lot. There are lots of sports cars around that are over ten years old with less than 100,000 miles on them. ( There are also a lot of cars with over 100,000 miles that have been well take care of and might have a lot of life ahead of them, and they can be real bargains.)
For more ideas, take a couple minutes and look here. (That’s an active Link) Take the time to look through a few pages to see the full variety of cars available. My criteria were convertables under $15,000 with manual transmissions and less than 100,000 miles, so change the search to fit your tastes and you’ll discover a lot of 5 to 20 year old cars out there, that fit into the “goldilocks” spot where the cars are old enough to be inexpensive but not worn out yet. In any case, one need not confine oneself to two seat coups or roadsters, European cars, or even imports. Take a look around and you’ll find a world of fun-to-drive cars out there for reasonable prices. (Some of these are listed at the bottom of the page.)
I know this might not be for everyone, it helps if you have some mechanical skills, but there are also plenty of independent repair shops out there that do work at reasonable prices and the main (RE; EXPENSIVE) systems in most cars built over the last 15 years or so are fairly long lived and reliable. One reason I prefer somewhat older cars as they are a typically a little simpler, (I’ve been able to handle virtually all stuff on my Z3 that’s required attention, so far), but most cars made in the 90’s and beyond are new enough that they are generally much more reliable that the cars of the 70’s and 80’s.
Take a look at some of the forums and you’ll discover a large support group out there for these sorts of cars. You’ll also find out the weak points every car has, what modifications are worthwhile and tutorials on repair procedures. If there are forums dedicated to a given model of car and aftermarket support in terms of parts and service for it, then the cost of operation is likely to be less that it might first seem. Not all aftermarket parts are high quality, but there are an amazing number of aftermarket parts that are actually made by the companies that supplied the manufacturer with parts in the first place, at much more reasonable prices that you can get from the dealer. Again, the forums will help you sort this kind of thing out.
I discovered how extensive the aftermarket support system can be when I had a Mazda Miata (Which has got to be one of the all time fun per dollar champions) and was amazed at the virtual “cottage industry that exists based on those little cars. When I was considering buying a Z3, I entered BMW Z3 parts, (a car that hasn’t been built in a dozen years) into the E-bay search feature, and got over 110,000 responses on E-bay and a search for “BMW Z3 parts” on Google turns up over 3.7 Million(!) responses. Similar support exists for other “Hobby Cars”.
I’d advise checking out some of these “support systems” for any model of car you might consider purchasing, or maybe check out the independent repair shops for prices of major and minor services, or how much they charge for an oil change. Or pick out four or five commonly replaced parts, like brake rotors, water pumps, air filters, or an oxygen sensor and compare prices for those same parts as the same ones on a Toyota Camry or Honda Civic.
If you’re in a situation where you can have more than one car (or more than two if’ you’re married) then this concept works even better. You can have an inexpensive “commuter car” and an “almost-a-classic” for less money that you’d spend on a new Scion, Miata or a 4 year old Porsche Boxter. Having more than one car means that you can tackle repair jobs that might take a couple days and also means that you’re not racking the miles up on your toy at an astonishing rate. Or, you can do things to your “fun” car that might not be practical on a car you drive to work, or have a manual transmission car to drive on back roads, and an automatic one if you’ve got a stop and go commute. Or, drive something like a late model Jetta or Mazda 3, and also have a Boxter, Miata, or 350Z for fun. Or, you could, if you just HAVE to have a new car warranty, but something like a Ford Fiesta or Fiat 500 as your commuter rig, and still have enough left over to buy a toy.
I was only partly jesting when I referred to “almost a classic”. There are a bunch of cars out there that are now “just used cars” that will be considered “classics” of some sort in the near future. There are a few cars from the 70s and 80’s, that have hit bottom and are going back up in value: Porsche 914’s, 944’s and 928’s, BMW M3’s Fiat and Alfa Roadsters. They’ve hit bottom and are now are appreciating, albeit slowly. You might call these “cult cars” as opposed to classics, but that’s just semantics. Older “NA” Miatas are likely to soon enter that category, as well.
But, it’s a hard thing to predict exactly what cars will stand out, but I’d think that any car that has discussion or Facebook pages dedicated to it, would be a strong candidate, as well as any car that has strong aftermarket support. People once thought that 65 to 73 Mustangs were too common to become collector cars, but nowadays they might be the backbone of the collector car industry.
In any case, cars are supposed to be driven, not looked upon as assets. The important thing, is there a lot of cars out there that have enormous entertainment value, and you have access to them when they are probably as inexpensive as they ever will be while there’s still plenty of them in great shape. They are modern enough to have performance and safety features that they can be compared to current cars, and are reliable enough to be daily drivers, while making a trip to the grocery store an adventure———————
For more on this topic Look HERE for part two.
Nissan 350Z, Porsche Boxster, BMW Z3, BMW Z4, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Camaro, Porsche 944, Toyota MR2 Spyder, Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan 370Z, Infiniti G35, BMW M3, BMW 328, BMW 330, BMW528, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Volkswagen GTI, Audi TT, Audi Quattro, Mazda Miata, Pontiac Firebird, Pontiac GTO, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky