Home » A Friend Of Mine Just Bought The Crappy Suzuki Esteem From ‘Better Call Saul’ And You Should See What The Camera Car Built For It Looks Like

A Friend Of Mine Just Bought The Crappy Suzuki Esteem From ‘Better Call Saul’ And You Should See What The Camera Car Built For It Looks Like

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I have a friend named Tory who has interesting taste in cars; like me, he’s very into old Beetles, and has had a pretty stellar array of them, including actual movie-used Herbie the Love Bugs and a Mexican Vocho taxi he was able to spirit out of Mexico when all the old Beetle cabs got retired. Lately he’s had a renewed interest in cars with some entertainment pedigree, but a very specific kind: cars that have had roles in the greater Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul cinematic universe. He has a greenish Pontiac Aztek that was used as Walter White’s car in some show-related (but not on-screen) contexts, but the car I want to talk about today is interesting because, at $4,000 that Tory paid for it, it may be the most valuable Suzuki Esteem on the used market today. Which is, of course, ridiculous on many levels. Yes, Tory bought the shitbox Suzuki Esteem that was the “hero car” of the early seasons of Better Call Saul. 

The 1998 Suzuki Esteem is an example of some very inspired car-casting, as has been widely noted in various articles already. The car is deeply sad, a vehicle of desperation, a car for someone barely scraping by and with minimal hope or self, well, esteem. Very much like the character it belongs to, James McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk, before his transformation into the much more successful and confident Saul Goodman.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

If you’re unfamiliar with the car and the show, I can briefly help with the car bit, but the show I suppose you should just watch. Though, if you’re reading this at all, you’re likely at least a little familiar with it.

The Esteem wasn’t a bad car at all: it was just a cheap car, selling at $12,319 in 1998 (that’d be about $23,800 today, still a cheap car) and this low price was its main selling point. The Esteem was the US-market name for the Suzuki Cultus Crescent, and you can likely see why that name didn’t focus group well in America. It was a pretty basic little car with a transverse 1.6-liter inline-four driving the front wheels and making about 95 hp; really, nothing adventurous or unexpected. This was basic transportation. No one really wanted an Esteem, but I’m sure many owners grew to love their humble little unassuming workhorses.

Here’s a ’99 Esteem commercial, complete with big heads:

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Now, one of the mysteries of the Esteem in Better Call Saul is that it, technically, according to the chronology of the show, was only four years old. Those would be four very, very hard years for the car to end up like this:

The Esteem is clearly made out to be a sad, broke-ass person’s car. And Jimmy/Saul was right: those idiots have no idea how to pick a mark.

He does euphemize the Esteem a bit here, just referring to it as an “import”:

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This next clip-montage is important, because not only does it show the poor Esteem’s demise on the show, I think it is the specific car that Tory ended up with:

I say this because there were four Esteems sourced for the show: one has been scrapped, one is the “hero” car and still owned by Sony, one is the heavily modified camera car (more on that soon) and the last one is the “stunt car,” the one that took the bullets and abuse, and that’s the one that Tory bought for the absurd yet strangely understandable price of $4,000.

As you saw in those clips above, the car got shot up a bit and eventually shoved into a ravine, which goes a long way to explain why Tory’s car looks like this:

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Esteem Full

Holy hams, what a heap! Remember, this steaming pile was four grand. Don’t discount the power of fame, people.

Look at the state of the interior:

Esteem Int1

Oy. Tory did buy another Esteem, in vastly better condition, for $600, but that one, of course, never did any television work, so the market proves how little it values an honest little Suzuki.

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One of the bullet holes has even been specifically featured in the show, too:

Est Bullethole1

Look at that! Fantastic proof of the car’s entertainment provenance. The bullet hole that Bob Odenkirk himself dramatically fingered in the show. It’s humbling.

Esteem Steeringwheel

Interestingly, the ESTEEM badging on the steering wheel was added by the production team; the actual car was a bit less bold about announcing its name on its steering wheel, to a driver that was already trying to forget it, but it came up enough in the context of the show that it was decided the name needed to be more visible.

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Esteem Tail

One of the details I always liked about the Esteem were its big, friendly taillights. The car was incredibly generically-styled, but these taillights stood out, at least a bit. They’re filthy but generally intact on the car, so that’s good.

Tory plans to get the Esteem running again, but I think cosmetically, he wants to keep it in as close to its miserable state as possible, as that is what this car is all about. Tory also sent me some pictures he was sent from Scott Velvet of the Celebrity Car Museum in Branson, Missouri, which has the remaining Esteem, and the strangest one, too. This is really half-Esteem, half Ford Windstar, because this one is the camera car, and is made up of the front 70% of the Esteem, crudely welded into the rear 60% of a Ford Windstar:

Esteem Camera1

Look at that glorious monstrosity! This was used to shoot interior shots of the Esteem, and allowed for a whole camera crew and all their bulky equipment in the back there, ready and perfectly positioned to shoot the front cabin of the Esteem. Many times a car set up for shooting will have a whole car on a trailer, surrounded by scaffolds and gantries and camera equipment, but when you’re dealing with shitboxes as cheap as the Esteem, you can afford to just find one and cut it in half and weld it to an equally shitty minivan.

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Esteem Camera 3

There’s the view from the camera crew area looking into the Esteem cab, and you can see how convenient this would be– all in one long but drivable unit!

Esteem Camera2

That Esteem has one maroon side, one white side, and the hood is yellow, like the hero car, because that’s the only bit that would be actually visible from inside. I really love seeing things like this, hacked-together clever solutions that just work, visuals and crudeness be damned. I wonder why they cut it to leave that little section of the front doors on the van?

I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the Esteem; I’m not sure if “restoration” is the right word or not for something like this; it’s more about getting it drivable while preserving that very specific level of shittiness. It’s closer to a conservation project, I suspect, than anything else. If you want to follow Tory on Instagram and see the process there and some of his other amazing cars, that’s not a bad idea.

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Somebody has to preserve these heaps, right? Right?

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 days ago

Oh man, I love film cars. This reminds me: we’ve got to get my friend’s hearse running again. It was used on one of the Walking Dead? (sorry, I’m not a TV person and probably understand even fewer references than David) shows and is also a tad shot-up.

We stored a ’30s Mercedes at Petrol Lounge that was a stunt car for one of the Indiana Jones films, and it was neat, too. The underbody had extra-thick metal skidplates and the back had been elongated for Harrison Ford to pop out. You could see where the back door (which didn’t have a tether or stop on it, possibly for access, but maybe for effect?) had whacked a dent in the side, too. The controls to start it up were in odd places, too.

Film cars are NEAT.

Last edited 11 days ago by Stef Schrader
Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
11 days ago

when you’re dealing with shitboxes as cheap as the Esteem, you can afford to just find one and cut it in half and weld it to an equally shitty minivan.

Cannot find fault in this assertion…

W124
W124
13 days ago

Jesse Pinkman’s Tercel was on sale some years ago, it went for something like 5k$. It was complete and running car, and I would have loved to own it if not having to ship it to Europe. I think it was very reasonably priced for a (anti)hero car in such a big show while being in at least mechanically good condition.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
14 days ago

The only way that car is worth $4,000 is if there are 17 $200 hookers sitting on it.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
13 days ago

And $600 on the seat.

Tory Alonzo
Tory Alonzo
10 days ago

Someone owes me a lot of hookers.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
10 days ago
Reply to  Tory Alonzo

Still, you can proudly claim ownership of Saul Goodman’s car.

Norek Koss
Norek Koss
14 days ago

We bought a new Suzuki for $7,000, it was supposed to be a four-door model, but the dealer cheated us and sold us a two-door model.We learned something by coming to the USA. It was a three-cylinder engine, it didn’t matter as long as I got to work and not to the mechanic. 🙂

Carrercrytharis
Carrercrytharis
14 days ago

Huh.

The Maruti Esteem my dad had in the 90s in India (before switching to a Honda City VTEC) was not this Esteem. I believe this car was sold in India — but as a Maruti Suzuki Baleno. (I think they gave the front-end some updates for the Indian market, but those squared-off taillights are very distinctive.)

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
14 days ago

I believe Baleno was the “international” name of the model (as in everywhere but Japan and the USA). It was sold here in Portugal as the Suzuki Baleno as well, and I’m sure I’ve seen the badge in other EU markets. The Maruti Esteem that you mention was possibly what was sold over here as the Suzuki Swift at the time.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
12 days ago

Yep. It was called the Suzuki Cultus Crescent in Japan; latter years were simply Cultus.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
12 days ago

Yep. The Maruti Esteem was a luxo, big-hearted version of the earlier Maruti 1000 – both were four-door sedan versions of the second gen Suzuki Swift/Cultus (better known in the US as the first generation Geo Metro).

Carrercrytharis
Carrercrytharis
12 days ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

My dad’s was this nice shade of green, before they started color-matching the bumpers.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
14 days ago

I approve

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
14 days ago
Reply to  Saul Goodman

S’all good, man!

Maymar
Maymar
14 days ago

Weird confession time – the Esteem sedan never did much for me, but the wagon was a handsome little car.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
14 days ago
Reply to  Maymar

+1, don’t care for the sedan, love the wagon.

Framed
Framed
14 days ago

“ One of the details I always liked about the Esteem were its big, friendly taillights.” Wouldn’t be a Torch article without taillight commentary!!!

Fred Fedurch
Fred Fedurch
14 days ago

“I wonder why they cut it to leave that little section of the front doors on the van?”

B-pillar.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
14 days ago

The Esteem would cost $23,800 today? What??

The Windstar/Esteem human centipede is fantastic. Did Hollywood David consult for the show?

Patrick
Patrick
14 days ago

I believe it is rather an autopede. Or is it a cartipede?

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
12 days ago
Reply to  Patrick

I think it remains a quadripede. Well, with wheels for feet.

Patrick
Patrick
12 days ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

If it has no feet, can it even be a ‘-pede’ ? 😉

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
14 days ago

I drove a manual Esteem for a couple weeks and loved it almost instantly. They’re great. That said, my taste in cars is old manual pieces of shit, so YMMV

Cerberus
Cerberus
14 days ago

There’s a definite joy in a simple, manual car that can be beat on all the time with no concern or maintenance, with a low-powered engine that has sufficient low end that it doesn’t feel dangerously slow, devoid of all extraneous BS, nannies, and electronic control interference that’s tough to beat. Just another kind of car that’s extinct in the new market.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
14 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

My son’s friend bought a gold colored grandma car: Ford Focus sedan. But it is a manual and he has loads of fun with it.

FiveOhNo
FiveOhNo
15 days ago

“I wonder why they cut it to leave that little section of the front doors on the van?”

Probably because that’s where the B pillar is, and they needed to keep that so the entire chimeric monstrosity didn’t flex like moist balsa wood.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
15 days ago

I need this guy’s contact info please.

I have some magic beans that can be had for a reasonable price…

3WiperB
3WiperB
15 days ago

As the World’s 2nd Best Lawyer, Jimmy McGill would not hold the cup holder situation in high esteem.

Maymar
Maymar
14 days ago
Reply to  3WiperB

For $4k, they better have included the mug, even if it’s even less functional than the car now.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
15 days ago

“Now, one of the mysteries of the Esteem in Better Call Saul is that it, technically, according to the chronology of the show, was only four years old. Those would be four very, very hard years for the car to end up like this”
Yeah, something to ponder, all right. At what point, that is, after what number of years, would it be acceptable or expected for a car to acquire beater status? This 1972 Renault 12 station wagon was only about eight years old at the time of filming the 1981 film Diva; while its body is actually quite intact it certainly looks like it was ridden hard and put away wet so its relatively youthful age of eight years doesn’t seem too incongruous:
http://imcdb.org/i068249.jpg
If Saul’s Esteem had been eight years old instead of four it might not be all that surprising. So what’s the tipping point? Five years?

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
15 days ago

It’s all about how you take care of it really. I had a 11 year old Suzuki SX4 that looked nearly-new. I also remembered seeing on MTV’s Pimp My Ride a 2 year old Toyota Corolla that was almost completely wrecked.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
15 days ago

Jimmy is hard up for cash and so not doing regular maintenance, and also seems to rack up a decent amount of miles, but I’d say 8-10 years at a minimum for the early 2000s era. Though it varies depending on how crap the car was to begin with and how throw-away it became through rapid depreciation. I’d say the Esteem as a beater was appropriate for the year the series premiered (the actual present day), but very much a stretch for the time in which it is supposed to take place. A Ford Aspire always struck me as a better choice, it sort of preserves the same name joke, and the oldest examples would have been 9-10 years old in-universe, plus they were definitely starting to hit beater territory in the early 2000s

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
14 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I’d expect the hard life can be ascribed to the original owner. Broke Saul wouldn’t have bought it new.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 days ago

The show takes place somewhere in New Mexico, doesn’t it? Desert car life is rough on the cosmetics.

NebraskaStig
NebraskaStig
14 days ago

This is a fantastic quandary! Beater status I’m sure varies with precipitation and road salt use being the strongest variables. Urban vs. Rural location is Third with sun exposure being Fourth in this personal ranking.

In the 90s, beaters were generally 8+ years old in my area. This is regarding cars and vans, trucks were given a pass unless rusted through. Even the one guy in town with his early 924 parked it outside as it was a beaten used example.

Tricky Motorsports
Tricky Motorsports
13 days ago

In my observation most cars are still pretty nice up to about 10 years. I don’t really see them at the level of the Esteem until at least 15-20.

Joe L
Joe L
13 days ago

I assume it spent several years under the New Mexico sun, but yeah, I felt one of these wouldn’t have looked so bad after only 5 years.

There’s a manual transmission Esteem wagon in Indio, CA that looks far better than the one in the show, and it’s 22 years later than when the show was set!

https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/1674865769583897/

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
15 days ago

“My wife and I argue to see who drives the Suzuki every morning.”

The marketing team really had its work cut out for it on this one.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
15 days ago
Reply to  Bob Boxbody

It wasn’t stated whether the winner drove the Suzuki, to be fair.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
14 days ago
Reply to  Frankencamry

Exactly, first loser drives the Suzuki.

NojustNo
NojustNo
7 days ago
Reply to  Bob Boxbody

One guy in the commercial laughed about his speeding ticket. Now that was a leap!

Bill
Bill
15 days ago

Really enjoyed reading this, and was a big fan of both shows. It strikes me that this car is the most authentic one because it met its demise in the show – it is in the same state Jimmy/Sauls car would be in the world of the show. The “perfect” hero car doesn’t have the bullet hole or the history.

My guess on the little bit of Windstar door left is its for structural reasons but look forward to more knowledgable comments on this.

Last edited 15 days ago by Bill
Tory Alonzo
Tory Alonzo
15 days ago
Reply to  Bill

Thanks Bill! I felt the same way. I rank “Bagman” among my top 3 fave episodes so to have such a big piece of that episode is really cool to me for some reason. My goal is the get the car somewhat functional and running under its own power again and leave most everything else “as-is” like it was just pulled out of the desert. Something that I discovered just today from a friend who worked on Better Call Saul, is that the Tribal Council requested all fluids be drained on the car prior to the car being pushed over the cliff onto “sacred lands.” I’ve removed 3 contractor bags of dirt and sand and still have more to go. Nothing good comes easy though right?

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
15 days ago

I’ve always liked these lesser-known movie/tv cars. I had the chance to buy one long ago, and Really wished I had went through with it, but it’s instead on the list of those that got away.

In 1999 I moved to Salt Lake City. It was there I discovered a new internet phenomena known as the eBay automotive section after my manager tried buying a Lamborghini Jalpa. In that general area someone was claiming to have the 1974 Chevy Nova from Pulp Fiction with that all-important paperwork-documentation, blood stains, and maybe some brain-chunks in the back seat. Said it ran when parked, but it wasn’t at that time.

That movie is one of my favorites and having a chunk of memorabilia as important as a car from it would’ve been amazing, plus our family-car growing up was a slightly newer ’76 Chevy Nova. If I recall correctly the movie-car only went for around $550. I kicked myself for not bidding on it, but I would’ve had to have it towed to my office building’s parking garage, and I’m sure they would’ve been thrilled to have me trying to get it running there. Curious as to where it is now.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
15 days ago

I like these little Go-pourri tangents. That said, this Esteem is exactly the kind of car I’d like to see more lawyers drive, bullet holes and all.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
15 days ago

One of the details I always liked about the Esteem were its big, friendly taillights.”

it seems there have been several small, entry-level cars with overly large taillights — and headlights. My hypothesis is that it was the manufacturers’ intent was not just to make them look friendly but to also make them look like toys. “Dude,” says the salesman, “You don’t want that, do you? You want a real car like this one here with a more manly look (and higher profit margin), right? Look like a person of substance rather than a high school girl.”

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
15 days ago

Oh, and when Saul pushed the Esteem into the arroyo, all I could think of were the permits they needed to get (or was it private land?), how they probably had to drain all the fluids first, and how the production crew needed to fish the car back out of there with minimal impact on the environment (although there are abandoned cars all over the desert). And when Lalo discovered the car in a later episode I was thinking about how they must have shot that scene at the same time as the abandonment scene. Sometimes knowing how films are made gets in the way.

Last edited 15 days ago by Alan Christensen
Tory Alonzo
Tory Alonzo
15 days ago

Yep, Bagman was shot on Native American lands known as To’hajiilee which is a decent distance west of ABQ north of I-40. The car went through a couple iterations of decay and was actually used in a teaser for the series finale. Thats when they really mangled the red door and some of the “Esteem” letters were removed and re-glued as if they were sliding down the trunk after baking in the desert. They also pulled off the rear bumper. Link below…

https://youtu.be/ORf9jadB-xI?si=iJmsw-P1q308ceoE

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
15 days ago

Some time the subject of the story is not worth an encyclopedia worth of knowledge. In other words some stories should be a lot less. This is one.

Pappa P
Pappa P
15 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I disagree. This article should have detailed the entire history of this car and Suzuki, right from the beginning in 1823, when a 9 year old Yoshihiro Suzuki, fed up with mediocre wooden pulleys which were commonplace at the time, decided to create Suzuki Heavy Pulley Concern.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
15 days ago
Reply to  Pappa P

That’s just one of many threads in the story. Another is the history of cinema. So, a quadrillion years ago, this one star invented the element silver…

Citrus
Citrus
15 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

You don’t have to be like this.

Gubbin
Gubbin
15 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

If this is your sarcastic way of saying, “I found this fascinating and quite moving”, I agree.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
15 days ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Yes but also too much blah blah blah.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
14 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Why read and take the time to comment, then?

Thomas Ogle
Thomas Ogle
14 days ago

This, right here. “This story was too long and about a subject I am not interested in so I wasted my own time reading it, and then commenting on how I don’t care about the subject.” is what you should have written.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
13 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Ogle

Liked the subject, I thought it wandered into too many other areas a different article would be a better idea. But I thank you for taking the time to respond.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
14 days ago

Second article in a row this morning where Mr. Sarcastic has a non-specific and yet negative thing to comment. You are correct. Indeed, why bother to waste the time being negative? This is my favorite site and it is also friendly and positive. I hope it stays that way.

Last edited 14 days ago by MikeInTheWoods
Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
14 days ago
Reply to  MikeInTheWoods

Under a previous The Autopian story this Mr Sarcastic heckler sought out every comment I’d made and polluted the place with uninteresting replies.

Sadly, there’s no “Flag as not constructive” button like there is on Bring a Trailer or we’d soon see worthless commenting here vanish.
(psst: The Autopian’s webmaster)

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
13 days ago

Yes but you posted vulgar attacks and no facts. That is what the site doesn’t need.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
13 days ago
Reply to  MikeInTheWoods

Not non specific. An editor at a newspaper would use the same criticism. Sometimes the fact that there are no constraints on space allow a writer to shall we say let the backend get away from them. I do post my opinion often. I do so in the hope the site stays and grows successful. If we don’t allow different opinions we just become autopianstans much like the Teslastans many here attack for their blind adherence to the Borg.
I truly appreciate that DR and JT and the staff have allowed me the freedom to disagree and have stood up for me in the face of angree people.
I think they recognize accepting different opinions makes the site better not worse. But hey I have no problem with you huys who disagree with me. Some of you are more educated than me and when you make an educated agreement I change my mind and post as such.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
13 days ago

Because that is what it’s there for? I assume the site appreciates constructive criticism. Websites are not constrained by space as newspapers once were. The use of too much information is as bad as not enough. I know Jason and the gang gets it. But hey thanks for reading my comments I appreciate your opinion. See how that works? Love you Harvey

Joe L
Joe L
13 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

When I subscribe to a publication, I want MORE content, not less. Not everything is for everyone.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
13 days ago
Reply to  Joe L

Well put and valid.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
15 days ago

So the hack job is a … Cultstar?

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