Home / Car News / Chrysler New Yorker, Mercedes S-Class, Ford Courier, Saab 96 : Choose Your Shitbox Of The Week!

Chrysler New Yorker, Mercedes S-Class, Ford Courier, Saab 96 : Choose Your Shitbox Of The Week!

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It’s Friday! We made it! Time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and slack off for a few minutes at work while I recap the week’s winners. But before I can do that, let’s find out who that final winner from yesterday is:

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Kinda-sorta close, but Grandma wins it! Ice-cold Ensures all around to celebrate. Never underestimate the appeal of a good comfy place to sit. Lots of commenters felt somehow guilty or sullied voting for our cushy old Chrysler, but honestly, it’s all right. You can admit you have a soft side. Now hurry up, it’s almost 4:30, and we don’t want to be late for the early-bird dinner specials at Denny’s.

So, let’s recap, and as usual (inasmuch as we have a “usual” so far), I’ll give my opinions of the four winners.

1979 Ford Courier – $2,000

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I was surprised by this one, not so much that you all liked this Courier, but that you all seemed to dislike that Dodge Colt so much. It was the motorized seatbelts, wasn’t it? Yeah, I’m not fond of them either.

This little Ford-that’s-actually-a-Mazda isn’t a bad choice at all, with the exception of the gearbox issues. I bet you could find a decent replacement if it came down to it; Couriers and B2000s are scarce, but not impossible to find, at least around here. And I can definitely vouch for the rest of the truck. I owned an ’84 B2000 just about like this for a year or so, and it was a great plucky little companion during a pretty bleak time in my life. It did have one weird failure, though. (Do we have time for a quick story? I think we have time for a quick story.) When I first got it, I thought the fuel gauge didn’t work right, because when it read 1/3 full, it would sputter out and act like it was out of gas. I’d refill it, and it would run fine again, until it got down to 1/3. I finally decided to see if I could fix it, so I drained the tank, took out the pickup/sender, and discovered that the pickup tube was rusted off about three inches from the bottom of the tank. Gauge worked fine; it just couldn’t reach the last third of the fuel in the tank.

But my truck didn’t have the “artwork” on the headliner that this one does. I guess that was an option?

1970 Saab 96 – $1,495

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Freaking Saabs. They shouldn’t be so cool; everything about them is non-standard or done in some Bizarro World way, they’re not really performance cars, and the company’s whole history was one of going broke, getting bought out, being misunderstood by the new owners, and then repeating the cycle. And yet their appeal is undeniable.

This one I wouldn’t want as a project to try to make it “nice,” but I can see it with a stripped-out interior, a bunch of big round driving lights on the front, and a flat-black hood, ready to enter the Walter Mitty Rally and pretend like every road is some curvy tree-lined back road outside of Gothenburg.

1984 Mercedes-Benz 300SD – $2,500

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A Mercedes S-Class makes a statement. And the statement this one makes is “I was bought new by a mid-level movie studio contract lawyer on the day he made partner, but that was six owners ago, and now I’m just really tired.” It’s hard to imagine sometimes, when you see these cheap old cars for sale, that every one of them was once brand new, gleaming, flawless, and someone’s pride and joy. Most cars are used up long before they get as old or acquire as many miles as this one; it’s a testament to Mercedes’s engineering and build quality that this car is still game.

It would make a nice runabout, I imagine, but everything has an end, and as this old Benz nears its date with the junkyard, I expect a lot of little headaches for the last owner or two. It’ll go down fighting, but appointments will be missed, repairs will be attempted, oaths will be uttered, and ultimately that last tow truck will be called. But man, what a ride it will have been.

1990 Chrysler New Yorker – $2,200

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Back in the days of DriveTribe, what feels like a thousand years ago, I wrote a whole treatise on the joys of old-people cars. The comments were about as split as the comments yesterday between the “why on Earth would you want that, it’s boring” and “hell yes, look at those comfy seats” camps. Yeah, you’re right; this is not an exciting car. But not every car has to be, and those of us who understand that will happily sink into a soft split-bench seat, throw a mushy automatic into Drive, and just float serenely down the road. Canyon-carvers are great, but potholes exist, and there’s no reason you need to feel every single damn one of them on the way to work every day.

I can tell you one thing: my next car will be something very much like this. Not this one; it is a tempting price, but I just dumped a bunch of money into my daily driver, and it seems silly to swap it for something else right now. but when the time does come, I’ll be looking for a grandma-mobile.

That will do it for the week. All that’s left for you to do is click one of those buttons below, and choose your favorite. I feel like I’ve been favoring American and European cars so far, so next week we’ll be turning Japanese (I really think so!) and focusing on cars from the Land of the Rising Sun. See you then!

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51 Responses

    1. My family had one of those (they’re a little older than the contest one). With the freewheel clutch, it really had a distinctive sound, sorta like a chain saw. But if you saw a hill coming up, you’d floor it to have as much of a running start as possible, to avoid having to downshift to 2nd to make it to the top. Eventually it passed on to me, and died of a broken piston.

  1. The 3.3 is really not a bad engine at all, and with it the New Yorker might actually be able to get out of its own way. Unlike the Mitsu 3.0 my grandpa’s ’88 New Yorker had. Even our Grand Caravans with the 3.3 were no slouches.

    1. It really, really can’t. 11 second 0-60. This is the 3.3 that isn’t significantly better than the 6G72 except it doesn’t piss oil, shit valve seals, and have the worst fucking timing belt service known to man.

      But you won’t care, ensconced in the driver’s couch, because you know that it will eventually get there.

        1. I worked on these, still do on occasion. The 41TE doesn’t fail if it’s properly maintained. But too many dipshit ‘mechanics’ who couldn’t read would insist that if you changed the fluid, you lost the sparkly bits and that would break it. You know, because you’re supposed to have all the friction material in your fluid.
          Fluid and filter every 35,000 miles on higher mileage examples. Fix leaks promptly. Bench overhaul (seals, friction materials) at 100k is typical, but 150k+ isn’t unheard of. If pump seal fails, bench rebuild with the Sonnax kit. Easily goes 200k before you’re looking at boring the accumulators. Assuming no TCM issues. (Those things, ugh.) And if you don’t know how to set shaft play to within thousandths, DON’T TAKE IT APART.

          If they were half as bad as idiots insist they are, Chrysler wouldn’t still be using them.
          Oh, yeah. The 41TE/A604? That turned into the 42LE, 40TE, 41AE, 4nTES, 42RLE, and 62TE. The 41TE itself was used with only tweaks from 1989 until 2010.

    1. This was covered in the Ford’s post – you literally cannot fix the transmission in the Ford. Parts for it cannot be obtained for love or money outside of common bearings. And it’s got a busted fork and probably roasted synchros.
      The only way you’re getting reverse back is with a whole new drivetrain.

  2. As much as I didn’t like voting against the New Yorker and the Saab, I had to go with the 300SD.

    If the 300SD sold, then I would go to the New Yorker as a close second.

  3. Gimme that diesel Benz goodness, please. It’s a timeless design that will last a lifetime as long as you keep fixing it. I’ll give a tip o’ the hat to the New Yorker for making a surprisingly respectable luxury car out of the humble K platform. Iacocca hit that one out of the park.

  4. My dear parents bought an ’84 New Yorker as their 2nd car when I started to drive. While the seats were nice, that was absolutely the worst car I’ve ever driven. This one would be post fuel-injection, so it should be slightly more reliable and slightly less gutless. But no, the New Yorker can burn.

  5. Ugh, why? There is no “autopia” I want to live in where a flaccid K-car is the best choice out of this list. I voted for the Saab, but honestly I would take any of the three alternatives to the Chrysler. They will all break your heart and your wallet sooner or later, but that’s the risk when you fall in love. The New Yorker isn’t a car you fall in love with, it’s one you settle for because it’s nice and reliable. If people were honestly flying their freak flag for the Chrysler, I would understand.

    This is why we need ranked-choice voting, my friends. I would rank the New Yorker in fifth place, after walking. Anyway, love you guys, even if you choose trash.

  6. Ugh, you gang of lazy, elderly Philistines. All you want is ass-comfort.

    Just because a car is a shitbox there’s no need for it to be embarrassing. Sure, the Saab will take some work to make it daily-driveable. But that’s work I like to do. I’m a car guy. I like cars. I prefer them to run, but I really prefer them to be interesting. In no universe is any K car interesting.

    And the deciding factor for me is once again the smog requirement. Saab’s the only exempt one, so I can put any drivetrain I want in it.

    Y’all are lame-os.

  7. My choice here would be the Saab, simply due to the fact I really would like to own another one. But I certainly can’t fault anyone picking the Chrysler. It would be my second pick.

  8. I went with the New Yorker. When it dies I’ll yank the seats out for the home theater I’ll never get around to making.

    My vote just broke the tie with the Merc, I almost wish I didn’t vote just to see the tie remain.

  9. Grab the New Yorker, drive it until it falls apart, and use the money you would have spent on something more expensive to buy a motorcycle or fast project car. And, if you come across one and have the skills/ambition, take a wrecked/rusted out Spirit or Shadow R/T and swap in the Turbo I drivetrain; it should fit fairly easily!

  10. If the goal is a cheap daily driver that would get me to work every morning, I’m a little sad to say it would be the New Yorker. The seats would provide a uterine level of comfort and I bet you could find a Tony Robbins cassette or two in the glove box for an inspirational commute. A little Rhino Liner on the roof would be my first and only project.

    Both the Saab and Mercedes would be fun projects, but for just a little more dough you can find better examples as starting points, and the Courier was out of the running because of the transmission.

  11. The courier was instantly ruled out because 1) I voted for the colt, 2) that was an easy vote, 3) I really don’t understand how the courier won, because the busted tranny will make it miserable to own without expensive repairs that will be more than the car is worth and take forever to find the parts for. And for what? A truck that you can buy with a better engine and without these problems for like $500-1000 more?

    As for the Saab, too many unknowns. I don’t know what I’d be getting into, and can prob find a better starting point.

    At the end the mileage on the Mercedes (yes I know it’s a diesel) and the worn out interior made me go for the K Car.

  12. The ultimate objective of a ‘shitbox’ is not a project. It is to be a cheap thing you can hop in, drive off, and only carry liability insurance on until it either throws a rod, rots out from under you, or accidentally becomes cool allowing you to unload at a meager profit.

    Only one of these cars meets all of those requirements: the New Yorker.
    It is the only shitbox on this list that runs and drives with no mechanical issues, is not ‘some assembly required,’ and you’re really not going to give a shit (beyond salvaging the driver’s couch) if it gets rear-ended by an M4 Sherman-sized pickup. (Added bonus, you’ll survive it!)

    1. Hear hear.

      My grandparents had a 1990 New Yorker that they rolled just outside of Cereal, AB in the summer of 1990. Even in their 70’s, they both walked away with just some bruises. That thing was a tank. I think the only difference theirs had from the one in the article is the landau top – theirs was grey.

      So, inasmuch as the Merc has some style, the New Yorker is the best of this bunch.

      1. One of my favorite pieces of trivia about Chrysler in the 80’s and 90’s is that not only were they the first to have airbags standard in cars, and the first to put them in trucks, while also leading the way in crash structures?
        They were also the first airbag involved accident.
        In 1990, a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron crossed the centerline and hit a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron head on, at a combined speed of over 70MPH. One of the drivers was not wearing their seat belt, the height of stupidity.

        To give you some idea of how severe the accident truly was? One was a LeBaron Coupe, one was a LeBaron Convertible, with the top down. The coupe’s drivers door was torn completely off, the convertible’s driver’s door was crushed into the unibody on the horizontal axis and crushed on the vertical axis as well. All the seats were broken in both cars. The end of the hoods on each LeBaron was past the leading edge of the door.
        It was that bad.

        Both drivers walked away with nothing more than bruising and small scrapes.

    1. No lack of old Caddy love from me. I had an ’89 Coupe DeVille a few years ago that I just loved… except for the weak brakes. I live in a hilly part of town, and I got tired of having the brakes fade out at the bottom of every hill; even downshifted into 2nd, the big Caddy just tried to run away and I had to ride the brakes. But if I lived in the flatlands, I might never have sold it. It got 14 mpg in town, but on the freeway it was just magic.

  13. hey, just to confuse the uninitiated, could the Friday poll be set up for ranked choice voting? Really, voting on these Friday shitboxes is a lot like voting for politicians: hold your nose and vote for the one you hate the least.

  14. I’m not necessarily against big comfy cars, just some of them, including most any with a Pentastar anywhere on them (sorry MOPAR folks).
    There are variations of the K I’d like to own, but not this one.

    Give me an Olds or really a Pontiac Bonnie if we’re going 1990 FWD over any fluffed up K car. Nice 3800 V-6 and a more reliable transmission (the thing I remember about that era of FWD GM transaxle is the TCC solenoid, but it’s replaceable with the pan off, not requiring a removal, much less a rebuild).

    A 1990 Continental is a basket of problems, from the electronics to the air suspension to the iffy transaxle to the head gasket blowing 3.8L engine. But I’ve seen them with well over 200K still loved by their owners (worked at a Lincoln-Mercury store in the early 00s). They rode nicer than most anything we’ve talked about so far, and actually, the steering wasn’t bad either (derived from the well-handling first generation Taurus as it was). This one old couple would repair anything that went wrong with theirs. They claimed they looked at most all new luxury cars, including Lincolns, and couldn’t find anything they liked more. Strange love.

  15. Why is every initial image not loading on Autopian? (Mac Safari 15.4 and iOS Safari too) It’s also a miracle that my log-in held on long enough to comment. My log-in seems to drop off 9 times out of 10 by the time I get back to the article I wanted to comment on.

    On topic, I prefer the Saab but had to vote for the Merc.

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