Good morning, and happy Friday to all you fine citizens of Autopia. It’s been a long week, I’m too drained to come up with a clever theme, and this week’s cars don’t really lend themselves to a runoff. So instead, I’m just featuring two cars that I spotted a while ago, that I couldn’t match up to anything else. They don’t really have anything in common with each other, either. I mean, they’re both hatchbacks, I guess, and both four-speed sticks, so there’s that.
Yesterday, we pitted East against West in a battle of German engineering, and the results were predictable: the flat-black BMW beat the pants off the tiny two-stroke terror. I’m with you all: I desperately want to drive a Trabant someday, but I don’t feel any compulsion to spend money on one. Especially not thirteen grand. The 2002 seems a little pricey, but the seller sounds pretty motivated, so there may be a deal to be made.
Also, just a quick note about the prices of cars in general: please remember that I’m not the one setting the prices. I just show you what I find, and sometimes they’re a steal, and sometimes they’re highway robbery. Honestly, I rarely check values on the cars I post, because I’m not actually shopping for a good deal. I’m shopping for a good story. So don’t shoot the messenger, okay?
With that in mind, let’s meet today’s contenders. One of these cars has been for sale for ages; I’ve seen its posting come and go, and reappear a few weeks later with a lower price. It still seems expensive to me, but I’ll let you be the judge. The other, well, it’s hard to assign a value to it. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.1 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, FWD
Location: Austin, TX
Odometer reading: 4,400 miles (really!)
Yes, I know. Yesterday I subjected you all to a Trabant, today it’s a Yugo. Hey, we’re stepping up in the world, at least. Yes, this is still a cheap crappy little car built in an Eastern Bloc country, but it has “good bones,” as they say. The Zastava Koral (to give this car its rest-of-the-world name) was, like so many Soviet-era cars, based on a Fiat design, in this case the 127/128. It was imported to the US by Malcolm Bricklin (of Subaru 360 and Bricklin SV-1 fame), who was already importing Fiat X1/9s and 2000 Spyders after Fiat’s withdrawal from the US market, so it was kind of a natural fit.
The base-model Yugo GV (which I just now learned stood for “Great Value”) was powered by a 1.1 liter overhead cam four, designed for Fiat by a guy with one of my all-time favorite names, Aurelio Lampredi. This version is a bit weak-sauce, but a 1.3 or 1.5 liter engine from a Fiat Strada or X1/9 bolts right in, and plenty of performance parts exist to wake it up. It has a simple four-speed gearbox, but again, a five-speed Fiat gearbox is an easy swap if you so desire. This one runs fine as-is, but the seller says it needs a little shot of starter fluid if it has been sitting too long.
And sitting is something this car has done a lot of. It’s from Yugo’s best sales year, one of almost 50,000 sold in 1987, and it is almost certainly the lowest-mileage one left. It has only 4,400 miles on the odometer, and the seller says they have documents to back it up. Some ultra-low-mileage cars look like new, but this is not one of them. The seat upholstery seems to have held up well, but all the plastic inside is cracked and sun-faded.
The paint doesn’t look great either; I get the feeling that this car was parked outside for most of its long slumber. It wasn’t preserved, I don’t think, as much as it was ignored. It deserved better.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Vancouver, WA
Odometer reading: unknown
Runs/drives? Very well, it sounds like
From a car that has seen virtually no use, we go now to a car that has seen perhaps too much. This early Fox-body Mustang has been extensively modified to survive “the 2024 Gambler or Armageddon, whichever comes first,” according to the seller. It has a jacked-up suspension, a beefed-up drivetrain, and the requisite appearance mods that make Gambler- and Lemons-type race cars so much fun. You just can’t take this thing seriously, and that’s kind of the point.
It features the most basic drivetrain available in the Mustang in 1981: a “Lima” 2.3 liter four-cylinder and a four-speed stick. The engine is new, and is fed by a Weber carburetor and exhales through a tube-type header. The ignition, fuel, and cooling systems have been beefed-up to survive the rigors of 500 miles of barely-there roads; it should all be plenty reliable for normal driving if you were so inclined.
Despite the Gambler bric-a-brac and the flat paint, this actually looks like a fairly solid Fox body. It’s not rusty, nor has it had any altercations with trees or rocks during its Gambler service. All the glass is intact, and although we don’t get any photos of the interior, what’s visible though the windows looks at least serviceable.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the Mad Max cosplay look; I’d want to repaint this in some brighter colors – some famous race livery. Not Gulf or Martini; those are overdone. Alitalia, maybe. Or Bill Elliott’s old Coors NASCAR livery would be cool too.
Obviously, neither of these is a serious choice. You’ve got a car that never was much good to begin with that has been sitting derelict for most of its life, and another that has been made more reliable than it ever was, but also now sticks out like a sore thumb in traffic. But either one could be fun to mess around with. So set aside reason for now, and just vote with your gut. What’ll it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)