Good morning! On today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re saving our own David Tracy from a bad idea by giving him two far less bad ones. But first, let’s see how yesterday’s Boston land yachts fared:
An easy win for the Fleetwood. That would be my choice too; I really liked my old Coupe DeVille, and I still kinda regret selling it. Oh well; can’t keep ’em all.
Now, if you were around yesterday afternoon/evening, you probably saw our fearless leader’s latest silly obsession: a yellow Chevrolet Vega wagon for sale in Arizona. This is, of course, a terrible idea, possibly the worst idea he’s had since driving a series of increasingly rusty Jeeps to Moab, or maybe eating pasta in the shower. Fear not; the cheap car doctor is in, and he knows there are far better, more interesting, and more fun cars out there available for the same price. So to help David recover from his bout of Yellow Wagon Fever, I have prescribed two such cars, both in his own new backyard. Let’s see which one is the better cure.
2006 Pontiac Solstice – $5,900
Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Reseda, CA
Odometer reading: 159,000 miles
Runs/drives? Of course!
We all have that one friend, the one with the big ideas and lofty goals, who talks a good game but doesn’t have much follow-through. They come in one day talking about some grand idea that sounds amazing, but by the time it actually happens it’s so watered-down that it’s hardly the same idea at all. Occasionally, they lose their shirt on some stupid deal and have to start over again. And just once in a while, they pull off something brilliant, and they’re as surprised as anyone, and end up ruining it. I’d like you to meet my good friend, General Motors.
The Pontiac Solstice, and its sister models the Saturn Sky and Opel GT, came out of left field. Not even Nostradamus could have predicted a Miata competitor would show up in showrooms alongside Grand Ams and Montana vans. But GM’s performance division was on a roll in the mid-2000s, with an infusion of rear-wheel-drive goodness from Holden in Australia, so the little Solstice made sense. Like Pontiac’s other two-seater of decades prior, the Fiero, the Solstice was a parts-bin special wrapped in some fancy bodywork, but it was a hit, until the 2008 recession pulled the rug out from under it.
This first-year base-model Solstice is powered by 2.4 liter Ecotec four and a five-speed manual. It’s not a ton of power, but if millions of Miatas, MGBs, Spitfires, and Fiat and Alfa Spiders have taught us anything, it’s that a small convertible doesn’t need much under the hood to be fun. This Solstice runs great, and recently passed a smog test, so it’s ready to go.
Cosmetically, it looks great. The sliver paint isn’t all that exciting, but the two-tone interior makes up for it, I think. And were one to insist on a small General Motors car with a four cylinder, a stick, and rear-wheel-drive, one would be better served by this than that a woodgrained, overheating nightmare from the 1970s.
1985 BMW 528e – $5,399
Engine/drivetrain: 2.7 liter overhead cam inline 6, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Laguna Niguel, CA
Odometer reading: stuck at 219,000 miles, true mileage unknown
I’ve loved the E28 BMW 5 Series since I was in eighth grade, and the original M5 showed up in the pages of Road & Track and AutoWeek. Much like the music that you grew up with, or that girl you had a crush on in geometry class, the E28 set my own personal standard for BMW sedans, and everything since then has been measured against it. This car has all of BMW’s greatest hits: the ship’s-prow nose, the two small delicate kidneys in the grille, quad-round headlights, a Hofmeister kink, and an ever-so-slightly-off-center tailpipe.
What it doesn’t have is power in any appreciable amount. The 528e was a corporate average fuel economy special, featuring a de-tuned 2.7 liter version of BMW’s famous straight six. It only puts out 119 horsepower at an incredibly low (for BMW) 4250 RPM, but it gets great mileage, and it is still a BMW, so high-speed stability is baked-in. It just takes a while longer to get there.
We don’t know how many miles this car has on it; the odometer gave up at 219,000 miles. But BMWs of this era didn’t need a full cooling system replacement every 60,000 miles, or a host of special tools just to check the oil level, or any of that modern nonsense, so keeping it on the road shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a true rust-free California car, but the clearcoat is failing here and there. The cloth interior looks all right, aside from a hole in the driver’s seat bolster and some cracks in the dash, both of which you can live with.
The seller bought this car to drive daily, and put a bunch of work into getting it ready. It runs great, recently passed a smog test, and comes with a long list of new parts. Yes, I know David just bought a newer BMW, but as cool as it is, it’s not really a BMW, you know? Not like this is.
I don’t know if either of these is up David’s alley, but I do know that a Vega wagon would be an unmitigated disaster. These are both reliable, fun, cool cars, with the proper number of pedals and driven by the correct wheels. And they’re both a tiny bit cheaper than the Vega, even. Which one would you suggest to our illustrious Editor-In-Chief?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
Love the E28. Such a good chassis. Anyone remember Bill Arnold’s Targa Newfoundland entry? He swapped in modern subframes, ABS, a euro S50b32 and was so dominant they changed the rules. It just needed some modern tech!
But the Solstice I LOVE! But only because of the show car. Anyone remember it from the auto shows? It was one of the last concepts that I remember. It wasn’t that different but the changes were significant. But like the Boxster, the production model got smoothed out and is sort of clown car looking instead of awesome roadster looking. We need to cut up a Solstice, lower it, chop the windshield, fix the interior and I bet people have no idea what it started as.
Neither one is worth the ask, but for play money give me the Pontiac.
Yes… this: both better than any Vega!
Solstice all day.
I admit it, I’m never goint to vote for any BMW here in Shitbox Showdown. Working on them for a living has soured me on the idea of ever owning one (which used to be a dream of mine), and I just don’t want to deal with the bullshit that comes with that badge.
For all I know the Solstice is hot garbage wrapped in plastic, and being a GM product, I’ll acknowledge the possibility. I’ve actually driven one, and enjoyed it in spite of it being an incredibly tight squeeze for my 6-foot-2-inch/300+lb self. Knowing that the stuff to V8 swap it with a junkyard LS exists makes it even more appealing.
BMW here. That 2.7 can be swapped out for something spicier.
Like an LS…
It’ll be the BMW.
When the Miatas came out, I was so excited, I was still in college, but between jobs and saved up money, and maybe a little “Teenage credit”, I could swing it. I went to the dealer, and at 6’2″ and 240 (long time ago…), I couldn’t fit. Broke my heart.
So I’m pretty sure that the solstice is no different…
You’re right. I’m 6 feet even and 220 lbs. I got in a Saturn Sky once. Just once. It was my intention to get a Miata when I retired. No dice there either.
Solstice for me. I never had any great love for that gen of BMW 5 series.
Im a bit bias as a Solstice GXP owner. For 6k to start you could trackify that Solstice and not feel guilty. Solstices dominated SCCA in their day.
That BMW is sus AF.
The just washed look to hide how bad the paint and likely rust is.
I say likely rust because a 9-series plate is way out of sequence for the age of the car, so likely brought in from out of state or salvage title. (Could also be bought from someone that had vanity plates since it is a BMW.)
‘Broken’ odometer is just an extra bonus.
The Solstice has the correct 5-series plate for its year, and has no red flags.
Great call on the plate number being out of sequence, good catch.
As a Miata Fan Boi, I can’t vote for the cheap-copy Solstice.
I loved my E12 5 series but the square butt and neutered engine of the E28 ruins it.
If my life depended on it, I guess I would take the Puff Pastry Pontiac over the Beatdown Bimmer.
Solstice looks dramatically better than any Miata ever made.
The round front end with the pontiac nostrils does not work for me.
Now the Sky, that is a looker.