Home » Author’s Choice Showdown: GMC Safari vs Land Rover Discovery vs Chrysler LeBaron vs VW GTI

Author’s Choice Showdown: GMC Safari vs Land Rover Discovery vs Chrysler LeBaron vs VW GTI

Sbsd 12 1 2023

Happy Friday, Autopians! How the hell is it December already? I swear, last week it was July … oh well. As the spider said, time’s fun when you’re having flies. For this week’s Friday special, we’re doing another four-way shootout – but instead of the cars you chose, we’re going to take a second look at my favorites. Why? Because I can.

So first, let’s see how yesterday’s vote went down. I honestly had no idea how this one was going to turn out. The Z3 was the more desirable car before you factored in the current owner’s “improvements,” but there’s a lot to unpack there. And I don’t just mean all the crap they left on the floor. I didn’t know how much you were willing to overlook.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

As it turns out, you couldn’t get past the Lambo doors and the silly spoiler and whatever other indignities had been visited upon that poor little roadster, and chose the threadbare but stock GTI. For once this week, we are in agreement. If I were looking for a GTI, I’d rather have a MkII; I drove a MkII Golf in college and absolutely loved it. But this one would do nicely too.

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So now that we have our foursome, let’s recap them, so you can appreciate the wisdom of my choices.


1986 GMC Safari – $1,850

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Pros: As durable as a hammer, can be anything you want

Cons: Would lose a drag race to a snail driving a 240D

On Monday, this scruffy Safari van lost to a much cleaner and slightly cheaper Ford Aerostar, and I suppose on the face of it, the Aerostar was a better deal. But I prefer the Astro/Safari’s styling, and I like the idea of a blank slate. Custom vans need to make a comeback, and this old school-district stuff-hauler needs a second lease on life. It’s plain white and empty now, but there’s no reason it has to stay that way.

The trouble, for a lot of you, was what’s under this van’s doghouse: GM’s trusty old “Iron Duke” 2.5 liter four cylinder. Yes, for the first few years, you could get the Astro and Safari with a four, and in some cases, a stick, too. I’ve seen exactly one manual Astro ever, so they’re not what you’d call common. This one is equipped with a TH700R4 automatic, the same transmission used in V6 Astros and Safaris, as well as full-size trucks and Corvettes. It’s absurdly overkill for the little Iron Duke, and that’s a good thing. Yeah, it’s going to be pokey, but what’s your hurry?


1995 Land Rover Discovery – $2,500

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Pros: Land Rover capability, rare manual transmission, runs and drives great

Cons: Land Rover reliability, interior is trashed

This first-generation Disco lost spectacularly to a red Saab turbo on Tuesday. I believe Saab is still undefeated in Showdowns. Everyone loves them, which makes it all the more curious that the company went out of business. Anyway, Land Rover is still around, but they sure don’t make trucks like this any more. The Discovery Series I is as tough as they come, with two solid axles driven by Rover’s aluminum V8, in this case through a five-speed stick.

Like the Safari, this Landy doesn’t have much of an interior. The back seat is gone, the front seats are trashed, and a lot of the plastic inside is broken or missing. But fancy interiors in these things are overrated. Land Rovers were never meant for Rodeo Drive; they were built to traverse far more hostile terrain. This would make a great weekend off-road toy, and for that, you don’t need nice leather seats.


1990 Chrysler LeBaron – $3,750

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Pros: exceptional condition, low miles, comfy seats

Cons: less-desirable powertrain, boring color combo

I actually went back and forth on this one. The Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible that won was an awfully nice car, but it had twice the miles on it, and it was bright red, and I’ve never liked bright red cars. I’m not in love with the beige on this LeBaron either, but it’s less offensive.

This LeBaron also features the Mitsubishi-built V6, which is a decent engine, but Chrysler’s own turbocharged four-cylinder is cooler, and probably gets better mileage. The LeBaron was technically available with a manual, but unlike the Astro, I’ve never even seen one LeBaron convertible with a stick. Coupes, yes, but no convertibles. But I suppose, for a soft-edged cruiser like this, an automatic is fine.


2009 Volkswagen GTI – $4,500

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Pros: practical, efficient, six-speed manual

Cons: VW with over 200,000 miles, not the most fun GTI

This is probably the most practical car here. Four-door hatchbacks aren’t terribly common in America, but in other parts of the world, especially Europe, this style of car does most of the heavy lifting. You can haul people or stuff, park easily, and not use too much fuel doing it. Get a “hot hatch” version like this, and you can even have some fun along the way.

Yes, it has a lot of miles on it, and VWs after about 1988 or so don’t have the best reputation for reliability. But in this case, high mileage might be a good thing: these cars don’t take kindly to neglect, and there’s no way it would have lasted this long without proper maintenance. The stuff that could go wrong probably already has, and been fixed. There’s not much to fear from this car, as long as you keep up on stuff from here on out.


So here’s how we’re going to play this: You tell me which car I’m most wrong about, and cast your vote accordingly, then explain your choice in the comments. So you’re not voting for one of these, you’re voting against one. Make sense? OK, cool. Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you all back here on Monday.

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Jimmy Joe Bob
Jimmy Joe Bob
4 months ago

I’ve daily driven a zero option Land Rover discovery 1 with a manual since it had a factory warranty. I deeply love these trucks and it helps that they get confused with disco 2s (which really are shitty, and are wildly more different than you’d think from disco 1s) disco 1s are almost literally a defender with something other than a tractor cab on top. They are Very simple, easy to work on and parts are cheap. The fact that this one is a manual makes it very rare. 95s had the most manuals going down to 97 where there were fewer than 100 brought to the US. It’s a quite uncommon car. The shit that breaks are wears horribly on D1s are the options, the crap you paid extra for when it was new. Sunroofs. Electric seats. Leather seats. Rear AC etc. The basic truck is stupid brilliant and I’m gleeful that they’ve been dirt cheap for so long. That’s starting to change though, as people have started to stop me and talk to me about it. It’s old enough it’s gone from shitty old truck to rare enough to be interesting in my time with it. (A little like the five stages of death/dying except cars; 1 cool new truck! 2 last years truck! 3 absolutely invisible old truck 4 actively a beater/possibly dangerous people look down on you 5 whoa! Cool truck! They look rad haven’t seen one in ages!)

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
4 months ago

This was sort of hard. I originally voted for the Safari and the Golf,so I can’t vote against them. The Le Baron is boring,but in great shape. I voted against the Land Rover again because it’s broke and I wouldn’t bother to restore it.

4 months ago

Disco is the worst!
(Except Stayin’ Alive)

Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
4 months ago

I ordered and owned a 1992 Lebaron with the Mitsu V6 and stick while working at a Chrysler dealer. Maybe it’s still out there, white with a black top. Fun car, but it had a lot of electrical issues.

Mike F.
Mike F.
4 months ago

Followed instructions. Voted for money pit Land Rover.

4 months ago

I believe Saab is still undefeated in Showdowns.”

I believe there was one Showdown where it was defeated, but I think we’re not supposed to talk about that one.

As for the vote, I had to go VW. We currently own a 2022 VW Tiguan where the carpet on the seatbacks of the rear seats is falling off because the adhesive they were using during the pandemic isn’t sticking to things properly. Oh, and the switch for adjusting the power side mirrors only works some of the time now.

And as I recall, the Mk5 generation the GTI is from was much improved over the Mk2 through Mk4, but I don’t remember it being all that great.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
4 months ago

*sheepishly raises hand*

I am one of the dipshits who did not read the instructions. I scrolled right past the instructions, voted for my favorite car of these 4 (that LeBaron is the perfect weekend cruiser, fight me), and moved along. I apologize and will self-seat in the corner for the remainder of recess as punishment.

4 months ago

I was not thrown off by the instructions and for that I thank my 4th grade teacher.

Each year, around April 1, she would hand out a test with the written instruction to read all of the test questions before beginning to take the test.

Being typical Americans, most students just plowed into the very challenging test. Lots of kids raised their hands to complain that most of the material on the test had never been covered in class or our books. Her patient response was to make sure we read all of the questions before responding and to just do our best.

Being a naturally suspicious kid, I read all of the questions which continued on the back of the page. The very last “question” instructed us to answer no questions, make sure to sign our names at the top, immediately turn in the test and head out to recess.

Only three of us correctly followed the instructions and left the class within minutes of receiving the exam. Naturally, kids began to get suspicious as some of their classmates began rapidly “completing” the test and leaving. They caught on and turned in their partially completed tests, too. In the end, only five poor souls struggled their way through the whole test only to get to the last question and realize they’d been tripped up by not following the instructions.

It was an object lesson in attention to detail and following directions. Never forgot her, or that lesson.

Last edited 4 months ago by Canopysaurus
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