Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Yesterday, in the comments, several of you suggested that since I had done ranged weapons, I should follow it up with cars named after melee weapons. Well, hold on to your d20s, because today we’re going to attack with a pair of cars named after weapons of close combat. Yesterday’s contenders were from the same parent company; today’s are from the same year.
There was lots of love for the little golden Arrow in yesterday’s comments, but it didn’t translate to votes. I had high hopes for that little car; I’d seen it for sale for quite a while, and I was just waiting for the right opportunity to feature it. Personally, I think it’s way cool, even with the automatic, but having come of age in the era of turbochargers and digital dashboards, I can’t resist that Laser.
It really is in remarkable shape for that price, and I hope it finds its way to a new owner who appreciates it – that is, doesn’t abuse it, but doesn’t lock it away in a garage like some princess in a tower either.
Today’s contestants aren’t quite so pampered. They’re workhorses, both of them, with big lazy engines, soft-shifting automatics, and comfy seats. One wears the battle scars of a life in the city, while the other has eaten up many miles on the highways and byways. One carries the name of a bludgeoning weapon, the other edged. Which one will emerge victorious? I guess we’ll see.
Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 or 5.4 liter overhead cam V8, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Visalia, CA
Odometer reading: 312,000 miles
Runs/drives? “Still going strong”
Ford’s E-Series is a legend. Dodge and Chevy vans may be cooler, but when you want to get shit done, you turn to an Econoline. And if you want your Econoline to haul people instead of roofing or plumbing supplies, you spec it with seats and windows and it becomes the Club Wagon. It’ll haul the whole family on vacation, or your daughter’s volleyball team, or your weird cousin’s bluegrass band, and still have room left over. And these suckers last: they may have been replaced by the Transit in Ford’s lineup, but Ford built millions of them; you’ll be seeing them on the road for decades to come, I predict.
This fourth-generation Club Wagon was built after the first of two facelifts over its long life, so it benefits from a much nicer interior than the early models, and the newer, more powerful overhead cam “Triton” V8. The seller doesn’t specify whether this one is a 4.6 liter or a 5.4, but either way, it’s the early two-valve design, not the less-reliable later three-valve revision. An overdrive automatic was the only transmission available on E-Series vans by this point, so that’s what you get here. Strangely, however, in researching these vans, I found out you could get a three-on-the-tree manual in an Econoline as late as 1986.
This is the fancy “Chateau” model, so no mere bench seat for second-row passengers. This thing has four captain’s chairs, and a three-seat bench behind them, giving a total seating capacity of seven. It’s a far cry from the extended-length fifteen-passenger “church van” version, but I bet this one is a hell of a lot more comfortable. The interior looks remarkably clean, especially for more than 300,000 miles.
Outside, it’s mighty clean too, except for a few bumps and bruises. The UC-Davis sticker on the back bumper tells me the miles on this thing are probably mostly highway; Visalia and Davis are about 250 miles apart, and I bet this van knows the route by heart. Except for questionable gas mileage, I imagine it’s a pretty great way to eat up freeways.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Hollywood, CA
Odometer reading: 159,000 miles
Runs/drives? Of course
Further south, on the mean streets of Los Angeles, we find this beige Buick. Another legendarily durable vehicle, this sofa-on-wheels is powered by everyone’s favorite low-tech V6: the 3800 Series II. This ninety-degree cast-iron lump puts 205 horsepower to the front wheels, and reputedly returns up to 30 miles per gallon doing it. Naturally, like the van, this one’s only transmission option is a four-speed automatic. But can you imagine this marshmallow with a stickshift? Actually, that might be kind of fun… but it’s not a option.
This car demonstrates the difference between a comfortable car and a luxury car. Buick is not an aspirational brand; it’s a nice car for working-class guys like my grandfather, who came home from World War II with a Purple Heart and a lot of stories he wouldn’t tell unless he was drunk, went straight to work in a coal-fired power plant, and treated himself to a new Skylark every time they changed the body style. It’s a bit of softness for folks who live in a hard world, not a coddling overpriced toy for those already surrounded by it. This is a car you earn. Maybe that’s why it’s a favorite of retirees.
This one has seen better days, but it still has some miles to cover. The color is worn off the steering wheel and the seams on the leather have popped, but the Dynaride suspension still floats over bumps, and I bet the air conditioning even still works. As the seller points out, that sort of isolation is perfect for the daily grind of Los Angeles traffic. I do, however, find it funny that one of the other things they point out is the fact that it has four ashtrays. It’s important to some, I suppose – I just hope they haven’t been too well used. Cigarette smoke is a tough smell to get out of a car.
Outside, it’s, well, beige. It’s not an unattractive car, just a forgettable one, and sometimes that has its advantages as well. Other drivers will ignore you in traffic, you can park it more or less anywhere and no one will mess with it, it’s great. You won’t impress anyone at the valet stands in a town like LA, but screw those people.
I’m a big fan of vehicles like these: comfortable, useful, honest, unpretentious. They put in the work, year in and year out, mile after mile, and don’t ask much in return except a little maintenance. I actually kind of hate to pit them against each other, because I think they would make a hell of a $5,000 two-car garage. But that’s what we do here, so the time has come for you to choose. Which will it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)