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.