Good morning! For the second (and at this rate, last) day of my Facebook Marketplace explorations, I’ve got a couple of cheap reliable beaters for you. Neither one will win any beauty pageants, but they should get you where you need to go.
Yesterday, we looked at two cars that would be a lot of fun… if they were properly drivable. It wasn’t a blowout of a vote, but a fair number of you would rather find an engine for the Trans Am than find a transmission for the Escort. Honestly, I have a feeling that the Escort’s shifting woes are an easy fix, and that someone with some knowledge, patience, and tenacity could get it going through all its gears in a weekend, and have themselves a fine little runabout for cheap.
But I think I’m with you all on the Trans Am. I have wanted an F-body ever since I was a kid; the time has just never been right. And the third-gen with a stick is what I would want. It’s an easy car to work on, and replacement engines for it are cheap. Of course, I don’t own an engine hoist. (Yet.)
All right. Let’s take a look at a couple of cheap running cars, before I get completely fed up with Facebook’s inexplicable algorithms and clunky search function and endless spam/scam ads and go back to my trusty Craigslist. Here they are.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Portland, OR
Odometer reading: 102,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives well
Love it or hate it, you have to admire the versatility of Chrysler’s K platform. Park a Plymouth Voyager, a Chrysler LeBaron, and this car side-by-side, and while you’ll see the family resemblance, you’d never guess that half the mechanical parts were interchangeable. The C-platform Dynasty, along with the Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial, were as big as the K derivatives ever got, soft comfy sedans with nice traditional designs for buyers who were intimidated by Ford and GM’s modern soft shapes.
You would expect a car this size to have a V6 under the hood, and most Dynastys did. But the bare-bones base model, most commonly seen in fleets, made do with the same 2.5 liter four cylinder as the much smaller Spirit/Acclaim and Shadow/Sundance models. Coupled to a tried-and-true Torqueflite transmission, it made for pokey acceleration, but easy maintenance and solid reliability. This one runs and drives just fine, and looks as though it has a new battery.
Inside, the no-frills motif continues, with a split bench seat, crank windows, and simple controls. One of the complaints leveled at American cars of this era is that the interiors don’t hold up. This one does look a little grubby, but everything is intact. I think it’s mostly just dirty. It seems silly to think of detailing a car like this, but a good deep cleaning would make this interior a much nicer place to be.
Outside, I think it’s probably beyond help. The clearcoat is toast, and that big scrape in the left front fender doesn’t help. It’s too bad, because this “Black Cherry” color used by Chrysler in the late ’80s/early ’90s was really pretty all polished up. I find it amusing that the seller mentions that they have a set of OEM hubcaps for it – sure, slap ’em on, why not?
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Portland, OR
Odometer reading: 193,000 miles
Operational status: Your guess is as good as mine, actually…
I hesitated about featuring this car. It’s certainly cheap enough, and it fits the “ugly” part of the brief, but I have absolutely no idea whether or not it’s drivable. There is no text description in this listing whatsoever. I didn’t even know that was possible. I’m going to assume that it runs and drives, which may be foolish, but I can’t imagine anyone asking $900 for an Echo in this condition that doesn’t run. They’re not desirable cars, and this one is beat to hell, so it had better run.
The Echo was Toyota’s replacement for the long-lived and much-loved Tercel. It wasn’t an exciting car, but the Tercel sold like hotcakes, and was the unofficial car of college campuses all across the country for a decade and a half. And yet, Toyota felt the need to create a movement to attract young buyers, something they called “Project Genesis,” which the Echo was part of. It didn’t work – the Echo was a flop in the US, possibly because we didn’t get the far more practical hatchback version that was available in Canada. Toyota should have known; Project Genesis didn’t work out too well for Spock, either.
The US model Echo only came with a 1.5 liter four, with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. This one has the automatic. It doesn’t really matter; I’ve driven both manual and automatic Echoes and they’re both functional but forgettable. The Echo was the first small Toyota to place the instrument panel in the center of the dash, rather than in front of the driver – a trend that continued in various Scion models, as well as the Yaris. I suppose you’d get used to it, like anything else, but I never liked it, myself.
Condition-wise, this car has definitely seen better days. It’s still under 200,000 miles, youngish for a cheap old Toyota, but they’ve clearly been hard miles. The hood is wrinkled up, the grille is missing, and so is the passenger side mirror. I would have assumed it didn’t come with one; plenty of economy cars didn’t, but there is a stump there. We can’t really tell what condition the interior is in, because the seats and steering wheel are hidden under aftermarket covers.
You might wonder why on Earth anyone would want a car as beat-up as these. Well, not too long ago, I had a job in a bad part of town, where I had to park on the street, and I specifically bought a $500 Toyota Corolla in about the same condition as these, just so I didn’t have to worry about my car. There’s something very freeing about driving a car that already looks this bad: Park it where you want. Bully your way into traffic; they’ll let you go first. And if something catastrophic goes wrong, you haven’t lost much. So which will it be – the slow-moving American tank, or the cure-for-insomnia Japanese compact?
(Image credits: Facebook Marketplace sellers)