Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today’s matchup seems very lopsided, until you start to look at the details. I’ll give you a hint: one of these cars passed a smog test. We’ll dig into those details in a moment, after we look at yesterday’s truck results:
Looks like a narrow win for the Ford. Neither one seemed too popular, however; we weren’t exactly “swamped” with comments, or votes. So let’s move on to a little psychological experiment involving a pretty but ailing German sports coupe and a dowdy American sedan with a trick up its sleeve.
California, as our Editor-In-Chief is finding out, is a land of a great many rules and regulations surrounding automobiles. Sometimes the rules work out in your favor, but quite often they really, really don’t. And when they don’t where does that leave you? Sometimes it means ditching the problematic car in favor of something that already meets the letter of the law, which leads us to today’s contestants. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, AWD
Location: Santee, CA
Odometer reading: 178,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs great! But…
The Audi TT is a cool little car. Introduced in the late ’90s, it was sort of the Karmann-Ghia to VW’s New Beetle: a stylish, low-roofed 2+2 coupe with enough performance to back up its looks, and of course it’s available with Audi’s legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The first-generation TT is another car with some history among the Autopian staff: Mercedes Streeter had a star-crossed ownership of a car almost exactly like this, in silver.
This TT features a 180 horsepower version of the VW/Audi 1.8T engine, driving all four wheels through a five-speed manual. Sounds good, right? Small car, decent power, tons of grip, three pedals on the floor – it’s a recipe for fun. Unfortunately, it’s also a turn-of-the-century Audi, which means it also has a fiendishly complex and notoriously finicky engine management and emissions control system. One sensor has a bad day, and the whole thing can go haywire. And that appears to be what has happened with this car: it won’t pass emissions because some sensor won’t reset. The solution suggested by the testing station was to drive the car a while and re-test, but that hasn’t worked. The next step would be to fire the parts cannon at it until the problem goes away, but the seller sounds unwilling or unable to pay for that, so they’ve bought a different car and are unloading this one as-is.
It’s too bad, because this car runs and drives beautifully, they say, and it is in nice condition for 178,000 miles. Everything works, including the air conditioning, and the registration is actually still current, so there’s a little time to work out the emissions issues.
Cosmetically, it’s not perfect, but it looks pretty damn good. These are not low-maintenance cars, but they are reportedly very good cars to drive (I’ve not had the pleasure myself). Plenty of them are available for less money than this, but they’re likely to have a lot more problems than a failed smog test. And if you live somewhere besides California, you can likely ignore the fault and drive it as-is.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liter overhead valve V6, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
Odometer reading: 153,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs great!
But let’s suppose you don’t want to deal with all that, and just want something that’s ready to go as-is. You’re willing to sacrifice cool styling and leather seats for mechanical simplicity and reliability. And you’re intrigued by the idea of a once-common but now rare car, with an uncommon and desirable mechanical spec. Have I got the car for you! Feast your eyes on the 1989 Chevy Corsica, equipped with a 2.8 liter V6 and a five-speed stick.
Yep, that’s right; Chevy’s humble L-body sedan could be had with a manual. And it’s a good one: the Getrag 282 five-speed (yes, the ad calls it a four-speed, but it has a fifth gear). I’ve had two of these before, one in a Cavalier Type 10, and one in a Quad 4-powered Olds Calais. It’s not as precise as a Honda or Mazda gearbox, but it’s a damn sight better than the vague, rubbery messes that Mopar and Ford called manuals back then.
Now, even the best manual gearbox in the world couldn’t turn a Chevy Corsica into a performance car, but the alternative is a mushy three-speed automatic that soaks up the V6’s power like that one soggy French fry soaks up the pickle juice on the plate. With the manual, this car could almost be considered sprightly. It still handles like a Chevy Corsica, but you can’t have everything. The seller says this car runs and drives just fine, and has a new battery and a recent clutch replacement. It has been sitting for a while, and the registration is several years out of date, but it just passed a smog test.
Cosmetically, it looks like every other remaining Corsica: dreary. And why are they always maroon? These things did come in other colors, right? Once upon a time, this would have been the ultimate stealth car, but it’s such an uncommon sight these days that it might actually get noticed. Nah, who am I kidding? It’s still a Corsica. No one cares. But it’s cheap, it runs fine, and it’s ready to rock.
Yes, I know this is a silly comparison. But let’s just say you have your heart set on a manual, and you have a very limited budget. Are you going to choose the car that looks good and is fun to drive, but needs work to be able to drive legally, or the drab, uninspiring one that’s less than half the price, and ready to go right now?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)