There are a couple of things I look for in sub $3k drivers — the first is low miles (75k miles for a 29 year old car is great), next is working AC/heater (these are not important for the Mediterranean climate of my local SoCal region, but important when selling the car to others), original paint (cheap respray = no), and a giant sunflower painted on the door (because life is too short to drive something boring). Find this 1986 Volvo 245 DL Wagon here on eBay currently bidding for $2,100 with a few minutes to go.
If you are in the market for a simple 7-passenger people hauler with a slushbox, the Volvo 245 is a great place to start. The boxy wagon version is a great combination of simple mechanical reliability, cavernous storage space, roof rack, and basic acceleration. You will find some wiring issues as the original harness degrades into a filthy mess, and it won’t be thrilling to drive under most conditions, but if you’ve got an iced over lake/parking lot/rink it will do some nice fish tailing.
See a better blue plate people hauler for cheap? email@example.com