I like to tell myself that once the COVID crisis is over (or at least normalized) I’m going to fly someplace, buy a car there and then road trip back to New England. Today I’m day-dreaming of Denver. The trip back would let me visit quite a few places that I haven’t been to yet.
The question is, what is the best cool, cheap car to drive back?
A practical, but interesting and desirable option would be this 2001 BMW Touring 5-Speed. For only $4,000 you’d have to get some seat covers and hope its oil leak isn’t going to stop you in banjo country. Compared to today’s 3-series these feel small, simple, and pure. I loved my 2000 touring and often think I should get one to haul around my tennis and bikes on the weekend.
Staying on the wagon theme, this 2006 Mercedes R500 is equally tempting. These R-Class wagons (or are they minivans or SUVs?) are under-appreciated. Assuming the leaky air suspension doesn’t give out, this could be a great way to eat up the miles with plenty of room for all the refrigerator magnets we’re going to collect along the way. Unfortunately, you really can’t tell what you’d be getting since this seller couldn’t be bothered with decent pictures of the exterior or showing the interior at all.
Going in a totally different direction, but staying in the Mercedes-Benz family this 2002 SLK32 AMG would make the trip a lot of fun. This could only work if we packed light and stayed away from the souvenir shops. This has the supercharged V6 and under 100K miles. Unfortunately it also has an automatic. Normally that wouldn’t be a deal-killer, but at nearly $15K I’m sure I could find a better option.
This 2004 BMW Z4 3.0i is the better option to the Mercedes above. At $6,500 it’s way less out of pocket and I’d get a manual. I haven’t driven one, but owners I’ve spoken to tell me love theirs. The Z4 is one of the most polarizing designs out of BMW’s era of polarizing designs. I am still delighted, but also surprised, that they’ve continued the original design concept and didn’t do a total reset for the second generation.
Sticking to the delightful idea of driving a convertible across the country in the late summer there’s this 1993 Cadillac Allante V8 to consider. Ever since I saw JR Ewing drive one I’ve thought it was cooler than anybody gave it credit for. The precise Pininfarina design still looks good almost 30 years later. Plus, once you know about the cross Atlantic trips in their custom 747 you realize what an insane creation this was. How did someone convince the board at GM this was a good idea. Especially when they must have known about its stupendous cost (nearly $160K in today’s dollars), 90’s American quality, and consumer’s dislike for front-wheel drive in the era of torque steer. I don’t know who the Allante’s product manager was (maybe nobody does), but they were genius, and probably fired for this.
This article in How Stuff Works is a good summary of the Allante story from some of the program leaders including Bob Burger and Ed Anderson; (link)
The state car for Colorado should be the lifted Jeep Cherokee, and there are plenty of them for sale as they slowly rust away. The modern equivalent might be the Toyota FJ. At nearly $15K, this 2007 FJ is on the edge of disqualification. However, it has a manual and oodles of cool. Unfortunately, this is probably a scam. What seller uses screenshots or can’t be bothered to take pictures from more than a foot away, in 2018.