Good morning, and welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Today, as promised, we have two vehicles that both run and drive just fine, and both have manual gearboxes. First, however, there is the small matter of yesterday’s busted cars to finish:
Yep. Transmissions are marginally easier to swap than engines, so that makes sense.
Now, I can tell by the low vote total and comment count that yesterday’s matchup was a bit of a flop. Not quite a Cop Rock-level flop, but a flop nonetheless. That’s okay. Nobody gets it right every time, and what’s interesting for me to write about isn’t always something you all can get behind. I’m still trying to figure out a way to allow reader submissions; we’re just not there yet. Until then, if we have a slow day, I’ll just try something different the next day.
Like these two, for instance. Two five-door hatchbacks, arguably the most convenient automotive form factor, both equipped with five-speed manuals, which feels like the right number of forward gears. Three or four leaves too many gaps between ratios, and six can sometimes get confusing. Even better, both of these five-door five-speeds are five-by-five mechanically. Let’s see which one you prefer.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: San Mateo, CA
Odometer reading: 105,000 miles
The first PT Cruiser I ever saw looked exactly like this: pearl white, with a five-speed manual. It was at a dealership in Illinois, and the window sticker carried a markup higher than the price of this one. There’s a lesson about patience in there somewhere, I think.
These days, PT Cruisers are a dime a dozen, but that’s not a bad thing. The styling may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a practical little wagon that, with a manual, is actually kind of fun to drive. It can carry a ton of stuff, it gets decent mileage, and parts are cheap and plentiful. Get past the jokes and the old-person stigma, and embrace the funny-shaped little wagon life.
This PT is in great shape, and is only a little past a hundred thousand miles. It has the basic naturally-aspirated 2.4 liter engine, the aforementioned five-speed, and a really cool shifter with a simple round white ball for a shift knob. The seller says it runs great, just passed a smog test, and everything works. (The ad reads like a William Carlos Williams poem for some reason, but we won’t hold that against the car.)
The inside is tidy, the ouside is essentially straight, and the paint is still shiny. Obviously there are plenty of things that should be checked out before purchase, and I’d ask when the timing belt was changed, but this looks like a good deal to me.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Vallejo, CA
Odometer reading: 165,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does!
Saturn made their name with homespun tales of honest little cars, venturing forth from their factory in Tennessee to take on the big world. “A different kind of car,” they said. But as the years went on, Saturns became less different from the rest of GM’s lineup, hawking badge-engineered Chevy vans and slightly modified Cobalts. Towards the end, however, Saturn replaced the dull and weird Ion with something a little more special: a rebadged German Opel called the Astra.
In sharp contrast to the PT Cruiser’s retro pastiche, the Astra is sleek and modern, at least by the standards of fifteen years ago. Even now, it looks pretty good, but that might say more about today’s over-styled cars than anything. The Astra is a popular car in Europe, but it never caught on in the US; Saturn moved fewer than 20,000 Astras here.
Which is a shame, because by all accounts, it’s a great little car. I’ve never driven one, but I once spent a week driving its little sibling, the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa, all over England, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Astra’s sole engine in the US was a 1.8 liter four, and while it was of course available with an automatic, this one has the correct number of pedals.
This Astra is in good shape, with only a few signs of wear inside, and mostly clean and shiny paint outside. The front bumper shows some fading, and it looks like the drivers’s seat could use some spot remover, but otherwise it looks pretty good. The seller says it runs well, and like the Cruiser, it also just passed a smog test. It has a few more miles on it – 165,000 – but it wears them well.
There’s no reason practical everyday runabouts can’t be fun. All it takes is a manual gearbox, a tight zippy chassis, and enough room to carry whatever needs carrying. We have two styles for you to choose from: a hot-rod throwback, or a sleek modern European. Which flavor do you prefer?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)