A decisive win for the Galant. I was curious to see if the wagon bodystyle had enough pull to help the Saturn’s numbers; I guess not. 62,000 miles and rust-free is hard to pass up at that price. But yes, if you buy it, change that timing belt right away.
So now we head southwest through Illinois, past Dixie Trucker’s Home (if you know, you know), through Springfield, across the mighty Mississippi River, past the Gateway Arch to St. Louis, where an unlikely pair of convertibles waits for us.
First, though, it’s story time, if I may… In the spring of 1986, I was on an eighth-grade field trip to visit the Illinois capital of Springfield. There were about forty of us, riding down from the Chicago suburbs in a comfy tour bus (not one of the rickety old Bluebird school buses) for the day. We toured the capitol building, saw Lincoln’s tomb, met with our state representative (a guy who would later become infamous), and all piled back into the bus to head home.
An hour or so into the trip, a wild pheasant jumped out of the weeds along the shoulder of Interstate 55, directly into the path of our bus’s windshield. The poor bird smashed clean through the right side of the windshield, and landed in a bloody lump of feathers on the entrance steps. Kids in the first two or three rows got a good view (and some blood and feathers of their own), and screams alerted the rest of us further back that something terrible had happened. The bus driver kept his cool and took the next good exit, onto US highway 136, and pulled into–you guessed it–Dixie Trucker’s Home.
For the next five hours, all of us kids milled around the giant truck stop, while we waited for a new bus to arrive and take us the rest of the way home. The phone tree (remember those?) was activated so our parents didn’t worry, our teacher bought us all dinner out of his own money, and we dumped every quarter we had into a row of arcade games. We eventually made it home at around 10 PM, pheasant-free, but with a hell of a story to tell on Monday morning.
Anyway, back to the cars. Here are today’s contestants.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Alton, IL
Odometer reading: 203,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does
The now-legendary Fox-body Mustang ran from 1979 to 1993, making this example one of the last. Engine choices came and went over the course of that long run, but one constant trusty powerplant remained: the 2.3 liter “Lima” four. We all wanted the five-liter V8, of course, but I’m willing to bet Ford sold way more of these four-bangers. It’s a good reliable engine, if a bit anemic with an automatic, and it’ll put the wind in your hair just as effectively as the five-point-oh. Just, you know, not quite as much of it.
The third-generation Mustang wore three distinct faces over its run. This last design, introduced in 1987, has always been my favorite, possibly because of its similarity to the earlier Mustang SVO, which I still covet. It’s a handsome, friendly, approachable look, nothing at all like the angry Mustangs of today. This car wants to be your pal, not scare the crap out of pedestrians in a parking lot.
This Mustang appears to be in such good shape that I question the listed mileage. This car has a five-digit odometer, so it might actually be 103,000 miles. I know the engine and drivetrain can go 200,000 miles, but Ford interiors of this era don’t often hold up this well. If it actually is 203,000, someone took damn good care of it.
This plum-colored pony car is for sale at a dealership, so don’t expect to get much in the way of service records. But it’s a simple car, especially with the four; there’s just not much to go wrong, and it doesn’t have enough power to beat things up too badly. It should be a nice reliable ride for a good long while.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: St. Louis, MO
Odometer reading: 122,000 miles
BMW’s revived Mini Cooper has had a rocky road since its 2002 introduction. It got rave reviews, but quickly gained a reputation for mechanical troubles. It’s fun to drive, but a bit fragile, and not nearly as easy to work on as the BMC/British Leyland/Rover original. The new Mini did manage one trick the original never did, however: in 2004, a convertible version was introduced.
The Mini convertible has a “sunroof” mode as well, just in case you don’t want to go full-open-top. It’s a bit like the Webasto cloth sunroofs that were popular when the original Mini was around. Of course, you can open it all the way for the true convertible experience. It’s always a plus when an ad for a convertible shows it with the top up and down. It’s not a guarantee that the top motor works, but it’s a good sign.
This Mini Cooper is not the S model, so it lacks the supercharger and the six-speed manual. This one makes do with five forward gears, luckily in a Getrag box that’s more durable than the original Rover-derived five-speed. This Mini has 122,000 miles on it, and the seller says it runs well. It was used as a daily driver until recently, when it was retired to weekend duty.
This car is in good condition cosmetically, and it’s a great color. There are a few bumps and bruises, but that just means you don’t have to worry about it in parking lots. It has the seventeen-inch wheels from the Cooper S, which give it a little bit more serious stance, but it does make replacement tires a bit more expensive.
So there we are; two different ways of taking your top off in Middle America. Open-air road tripping is a unique experience everyone should try. So what will it be: the slightly-underpowered classic Mustang, or the fiery orange Mini?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)