Welcome back! Continuing with our search for cars at opposite ends of the same interstate, today we’re looking at Interstate 70, which stretches from a park-and-ride lot in Baltimore, Maryland to a desolate and lonely junction with Interstate 15 in western Utah. I’ve found two different bodystyles of the same car, a few years apart, for the same price. They also appear to have the exact same wheels, coincidentally.
But first, let’s check on in the results of our I-5 bookends. I expected the Roadmaster to win, but the Toyota to make a good showing, and it looks like I was right.
Everybody seems to love those big GM whales. You can’t say they’re exactly engaging to drive, but if you have a lot of road to eat up in supreme comfort, there’s really nothing better. Some cars are perfect reflections of the places that made them, and the Buick Roadmaster is the quintessential American cruiser.
Interstate 70 is one of those highways I’ve traveled on almost all of, but never in one fell swoop. The parts that stand out in my memory are the snarls of traffic around Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, the long straight slog across western Kansas, the Eisenhower Tunnel through the Rocky Mountains, which crosses the Continental Divide (and passes through some of the upper levels of Moria, too, I believe), and the sign as you’re leaving Green River, Utah that says “Next Services 115 Miles.” They’re not kidding. It’s absolutely beautiful countryside, but if you run out of gas or overheat or something, you’re going to be admiring that countryside for a good long while.
With that in mind, I searched for cars in the Grand Junction, Colorado area rather than pushing the search westward. As luck would have it, I found a car that was a near-perfect mirror of a car for sale in Baltimore, and for the same price. It was meant to be.
One last quick admission before I show you the cars: I don’t like either of them. I’m not a Subaru fan in general, though I think a lot of that has to do with the typical owners and drivers. Subaru ownership is too often a lifestyle, not a consumer choice, and that lifestyle too often includes driving too fast for conditions “because I have all-wheel-drive” and glossing over obvious major design flaws. But I try to be fair, and show as many different cars as I can, so here are two Subaru Legacies for your consideration.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam flat 4, four-speed automatic, AWD
Location: Ellicott City, MD
Odometer reading: 159,000 miles
I’ll be honest: it wasn’t until I saw the photos of these two cars side-by-side that I realized they were of different generations. The styling of Subaru’s Legacy model changed so subtly from generation to generation that it’s hard to tell them apart. This isn’t uncommon among Japanese makes; several generations of Toyota Corolla are indistinguishable without a spotter’s guide as well. This is apparently the third-generation Legacy, in its lowest L trim level. It still has the basic power goodies, and pretty nice interior appointments, it looks like; this is around the time stuff like that jumped from the “Optional” to the “Standard” list of equipment in all but the most basic economy cars.
All-wheel-drive has been part of the standard Subaru formula since the mid-1990s, of course; it’s the feature on which it has built its brand. Subaru has also stuck steadfastly to the horizontally-opposed engine layout it has used since the early ’70s. This era was still plagued by head gasket leaks, I believe, but those have become more or less a Subaru maintenance item at this point. No mention is made of whether or not this car’s head gaskets have been changed; it’s a question worth asking.
As nice as it looks inside, there are some mildly troubling signs of rust outside. The rear wheel wells appear to be rusting through from within, and I imagine you would find more signs of rust under the plastic cladding along the rocker panels. The drawback of a car that’s good in the snow is that it gets exposed to a lot of road salt, and that takes its toll.
I kinda dig that it’s a sedan, though. We don’t see many three-box Legacies in my neck of the woods. Every fifth car around here is a Subaru wagon of some description, but the sedans are rare.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter dual overhead cam flat 4, four-speed automatic, AWD
Location: Grand Junction, CO
Odometer reading: 240,000 miles
Two-thirds of the way across the country, we find this green machine: one generation older, and a couple of rungs up the trim ladder. This one even I have to admit is kind of cool. I never much cared for the Outback variant, but the Legacy GT is more my style. It’s an automatic, but honestly, that’s all right with me too. The manual Subarus I’ve driven kind of annoyed me, with sloppy gearshifts and clutches that bite practically right off the floor. I’d just as soon have the slushbox in one of these.
This one has more miles on it than the sedan – over 80,000 more – but it seems to have been kept up well. It has a cheap cover on the driver’s seat, which I presume means it’s worn out underneath, but the rest of the inside looks all right. And I like this dashboard better than the later model. It’s more honest, less uppity, though I could still do without the fake wood.
I don’t see any obvious signs of rust on this one, at least; Colorado doesn’t use road salt (which can make things exciting at times) so cars don’t disintegrate like they do in, say, Michigan. It is missing some clearcoat, but that’s not uncommon on ’90s cars anywhere. It also has a few dents and scrapes, but it’s fifteen hundred bucks.
240,000 miles is a lot for any car, but this one seems to wear them well. I’m still not sure how much I trust Subaru drivetrains, but maybe the high mileage works in a new owner’s favor in this case. Anything that could have happened to it probably already has, and has been repaired. The seller does note a small leak from the water pump that probably should be addressed, but other than that, it seems like a good runabout.
All-wheel-drive in itself has never struck me as a reason to buy a car, but I suppose there is some merit to the idea that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Especially when it comes to a cheap beater that would likely only be used in bad weather anyway. They’re available in two flavors: a newer sedan, with fewer miles but rust issues, or an older wagon, that’s cooler, but has a lot more miles. Which one will it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)