Being a renter out here in California means that I have a lot more free time on my hands than I did in Wisconsin - which is good and bad. The good: it’s quite nice not having to run to Home Depot or Menards on a Saturday afternoon to drop $50 or more on mulch/paint/appliances/gardening tools/etc. and then spend the time working on the task at hand. The bad: I kind of miss doing those little projects and home improvement in general. And with the housing market still unsettled and Carlsbad prices still high, buying just didn’t seem right. So, with a bit of free time and extra cash, finding a fun project car gave became a fun project to work on.
Starting with my list of ten cars I’ll own before I am dead, I started trying to figure out what would be available within my modest budget. That obviously eliminated acquiring a decent example of a 911.
* Affordable to purchase in decent condition. I didn’t want a non-running/unsafe car that I’d have to sink money into in order to get it road-worthy.
* Affordable to run. Inexpensive and readily-available replacement parts, cheap to insure, easy on gas. I did not want to have a nice car that needed, say, a $1,000 part that is now only available from a remote German warehouse, nor did I want anything that’d become a financial weight around my neck.
* A foreign make. Japanese, German, Swedish, heck, even French. Aside from Jeep Wranglers, Cherokees and Grand Wagoneers, most American car models just never did anything for me.
* Readily available locally. I entertained the idea of expanding my search nationwide, but spending, say, 50% of the car’s purchase price on shipping it back to this corner of the country just didn’t seem to make much sense - I’d rather put that money back into the car. Nor did trusting buying a car based on photos and a seller whom I may have only met via email and/or phone.
* Safety. Well, at least *some* semblance of modern safety features. Sorry rear-engined/air-cooled VWs. I want a little bit of crumple zone.
So, with that all in mind, I went back to the list and searched all of the Southern California Craigslists using Crazedlist.org. for:
BMW E30 325i/325is
BMW 2002 (not on my original list, but it should be)
Mazda MX-5 Miata (“NA” platform)
Mazda RX-7 (“FC” platform)
Mercedes-Benz SL (R107 platform)
SAAB 99 Turbo
SAAB 900 Turbo or SPG (first generation)
Toyota Land Cruiser (FJ40)
Toyota Land Cruiser (FJ60)
Volkswagen GTI/Jetta GLI (“A2” platform)
Volkswagen Scirocco II
and, just for kicks, a Citroën DS
The Land Cruisers were quickly eliminated from the list, as all FJ40s within my price range were basket cases and the FJ60s were rough at best. In fact, about the only decent Land Cruisers were FJ80s with over 200k miles on the clock. They’re great, classic, dependable SUVs, but I don’t need another vehicle in my fleet that gets gas mileage in the mid-teens. Aside from late-model Volvos, the Swedes never seemed to have made an impact, sales-wise in SoCal. No surprise, since they’re known as great winter cars combined with the lack of seasons in this region. A few somewhat-promising GTIs came up, but most had very high mileage and/or were located a couple of hours away from Carlsbad. I even found one Citroën DS, but it was in need of a complete restoration and (thankfully for my wallet), located up in Burbank. The Mercedes SLs in my range would have given my wallet a severe cashectomy. After a few weeks of searching, it became clear that I was going to have the best of luck finding a BMW E30 or Miata that met my criteria.
To be continued...