Good morning! Today’s Shitbox Showdown is an intervention of sorts, and a glimpse at some of the rust-free wonders on offer in southern California. I’ll explain in a minute. First, though, there is the small matter of yesterday’s inline sixes to attend to:
On, Comet! The Mercury sedan burned brightly in your imagination; after all, cars like this only come around every so often. And yeah, it’s not likely to ever be a prized classic, but any further depreciation should have a long tail.
Ahem. Anyway, to new business. Transplants from colder and saltier climates are often awestruck by the variety of old cars in and around Los Angeles. It can be a bit overwhelming. You give yourself whiplash gawking at a street-parked Saab 96, and stare openly at the faded boat-tail Buick Riviera in the Ralphs parking lot. And then you start perusing the classifieds. And that’s where the danger starts.
Our intrepid editor-in-chief has fallen down the rabbit hole of Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace listings since relocating to the Golden State from dreary rust-addled Detroit, and posts a near-constant stream of ads to our Slack channel, where the rest of us offer encouragement, or, sometimes, just try to let him down easy. Yesterday, however, he posted something that raised some alarm bells for this cool cheap car connoisseur: a Chevette. No. Bad David. You don’t come to southern California and waste precious cool old car capital on a damned Chevette. That’s like going to Magic Mountain and spending the whole day trying to knock over those stupid milk bottles to win a stuffed Marvin the Martian. There are a whole lot of other much cooler things that are way more worthy of your attention. Like these two, for instance.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Mar Vista, CA
Odometer reading: 77,000 miles (but it’s broken)
Before there was the S-10, there was the LUV. This captive-import Isuzu pickup handled the compact end of Chevy’s truck lineup for ten years before being replaced by a home-brewed compact truck. Chevy wasn’t alone in the captive-import game, of course; Ford and Dodge also sold Japanese-made trucks with their own badges. Years later, all three turned the tables on their former small truck suppliers and sold their own American-made trucks under Isuzu, Mazda, and Mitsubishi badges – but that’s a story for another day.
Today our focus is this impossibly clean ’80 LUV. These things rusted under a crisp morning dew, so finding one this rust-free, even in LA, is a real treat. It’s too bad it’s appliance-white; LUVs were available in some wonderfully bright colors, and with some incredible stripe packages. But at this age, I’ll take clean and shiny over rusty but striped. That awful ill-fitting topper has to go, though.
The interior is mighty clean as well, but missing a few things, like carpet, and at least one window crank. I’m not sure what’s with the blanking plate over the radio opening, with the toggle switches and what looks like a USB port in the middle – maybe there’s an amplifier in there? A hidden sound system would explain the sound-deadening material. But come on, man; get some carpet remnants and cut them to shape. There’s no reason for the floor to look like a Jiffy Pop container.
It’s a little on the expensive side to use for serious hardcore truck purposes, but for weekend hardware store runs, it’s just the thing. You don’t need a three-quarter-ton V8-powered monster to pick up mulch and paint; this will do the trick just fine, and a lot more economically, and with more style.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Odometer reading: 64,000 miles (but it’s also broken)
Runs/drives? Sure does
But then again, we’re talking southern California here. Sunshine and twisty canyon roads are in abundance, perfect conditions for a little classic inexpensive sports car. And nobody does them better than the Brits and the Italians (quiet, Miata owners; I said “classic”). And Alfa Romeo’s Spider, unofficially called the “Duetto” but never officially because there was already a candy bar with that name, is one of the finest examples out there.
You can tell the different generations of Alfa Spiders apart by their tails. The third generation has this weird rubber spoiler on the back; it’s a styling cue that I’ve never quite understood, but you can’t deny it’s distinctive. This is the “Graduate” model, a special lower-cost US version named after the Spider’s famous appearance in The Graduate. (Hey, maybe that’s why the big black spoiler is there. One word: Plastics.) This car would have originally come with steel wheels; I’m not sure how I feel about the white alloys. They could be worse, I guess, but I’m sure you all will have plenty of your own opinions.
It runs and drives, the seller says, but could use a little refreshing; from the sounds of it, the suspension is worn out, and obviously the interior has seen better days. The top looks more or less watertight, but the back window is pretty opaque, and could use replacing. Or, you know, just drive it with the top down. The seller says they’ve driven it daily for ten years, so obviously the odometer reading isn’t anywhere near accurate; it would be worth asking how long ago the odometer stopped turning.
It’s shiny, at least – it has a fresh Maaco respray, and there’s no sign of the front end damage that’s so common on these. That sharp Pininfarina styling was not designed for easy repair, and lots of Spiders end up with salvage titles and wrinkled noses after a minor front-end collision. This one is straight, and the title is clean.
Now, obviously, these options are both quite a bit more expensive than the $1000 Chevette that David found. But a good friend of mine in college gave me some advice about drinking that I think applies to cars as well: He told me to only ever drink the expensive stuff you really like, so you can’t afford to get really drunk. Likewise, car collections should focus on quality, not quantity. A few curated selections are more impressive, more fun, and less work than a whole bunch of clunkers. Which one of these would you add to your collection?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)