Happy Thursday, everyone! Today we’ve got a couple of cars that I guarantee no one anywhere has ever cross-shopped before… until now. But first let’s check in on our two old diesel tanks that we cross-shopped yesterday:
Yep, that’s what I think, too.If I were shopping for an old diesel Mercedes, I think I’d favor a 4-speed manual 240D over either of these, but those are getting really hard to find. So an S-Class will have to do. [Editor’s note: I have always had incredible respect for the “SDL” Mercedes Benz. The S-Class Diesel Long wheelbase. It’s everything I could ever want in a luxury car: It’s cheap, comfortable, and reliable. The dream. -DT]
We’ve been showcasing a lot of similar cars, or cars that at least have some tie that binds, but today I wanted to mix it up and feature two cars that have nothing in common except for wheel count, so I found us a really odd couple. (Those of a certain age have some distinctive bouncy theme music going through their heads now, I bet). These two cars are meant for completely different purposes, marketed to completely different demographics, and barely have any business being in the same parking lot, but together they form a sort of personality test: How risk-averse are you?
Given a little over two grand and a need for transportation, would you play it safe or go for broke? Do you take a chance on a beautiful, high-strung, fundamentally flawed sports car icon that could eat away at your soul one massive repair bill at a time, or would you rather have the little-old-lady-only-drove-it-to-church-mobile, even if it bores you to sleep? Is it, in short, better to burn out than to fade away?
Engine/drivetrain: 3.3 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Duvall, WA
Odometer reading: 136,000 miles
Runs/drives? Current daily driver
Looking at this thirteenth-generation New Yorker, it’s hard to believe it was built in 1990. It wears the style of at least a decade earlier, with its padded landau roof, heavy chrome accents, deeply-tufted seats, and fake woodgrain, all of which were horribly out of fashion by the time Falcon Crest went off the air. Lincoln’s Taurus-based Continental looked like a spaceship by comparison, and even GM’s stodgy Buick Electra looked more modern. But this style still resonated with a certain demographic: One look at this car and you just knew you’d find a stick-on compass on the dash and a bag of Werther’s Originals in the glovebox.
These days, there’s something quaint and comforting about the Brougham era (basically, the era when automakers offered weirdly opulent cars with vinyl roofs and Landau Bars). for those of us who grew up around these cars; it’s like Thanksgiving dinner in car form, warm and comforting and predictable. And you can’t say there isn’t some appeal to that. It’s still deeply uncool, and the lackluster build quality is starting to show after so many decades, but it sure does look comfy in there.
This particular New Yorker is the “Mark Cross Edition,” which I think at one time came with matching luggage, or maybe that was just the LeBaron convertible. It does have those lovely cushy leather seats, and they look to be in fine shape. Under the hood is Chrysler’s own 3.3 liter pushrod V6, a nice smooth unassuming engine that does what it’s told while barely being noticed, like a mechanical butler. [Editor’s note: This is Chrysler’s “Minivan motor” that found its way into Chrysler products from 1989 all the way to 2011. The 2011 variant was a 3.8-liter, and it was highly underpowered for the Jeep Wrangler application and tended to burn oil. Good riddance. -DT] . The 4 speed “Ultradrive” transmission wasn’t as accommodating in all of these early-’90s Chrysler vehicles, but at 32 years old and 136,000 miles, it’s safe to assume this one has either been cared for properly or replaced. The fact that the seller is currently driving it daily speaks well of it, too.
And now for something completely different…
Engine/drivetrain: 1.3 liter 2 rotor Wankel rotary, 6 speed manual, RWD
Location: Ventura, CA
Odometer reading: 120,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs fine but won’t pass CA smog
The Wankel engine was everyone’s darling in the 1970s, it seemed. GM was hard at work on developing the company’s own version, including a wild four-rotor that was supposed to power a mid-engine Corvette. AMC’s Pacer was originally slated to have a rotary engine. But only second-tier Japanese automaker Mazda really embraced the technology. In the early ’70s, rotaries were like Frank’s Redhot Sauce to Mazda: they put that shit in everything. Sporty coupes, family station wagons, even the B-series pickup were all available with a Wankel engine for a while.
After a while, Mazda figured out that a small, high-revving, lowish-torque engine was best suited to sports cars, so the company went back to conventional piston engines for everything else. But Mazda kept on developing the rotary, and created the stuff of legends through three genreations of the RX-7.
That car’s successor, the RX-8, came out with a new version of the famous engine, and brought with it a new slew of problems: leaking apex seals (the blades at the tips of the rotors that perform the same function as piston rings in a conventional engine) leading to loss of compression and therefore power and economy; a weak and finicky ignition system; and fouled catalytic converters, to name a few. These weren’t quality problems experienced by a few cars, like some other well-known “unreliable” cars; they were baked-in to the design. It wasn’t a matter of if these problems would occur, but when.
This particular RX-8 sounds like it is experiencing all those problems and maybe more. It runs and drives, according to the seller, but a failed smog test and difficulty starting the engine when hot doesn’t bode well. Plus, 120,000 miles is approaching old age for this engine. It may not be long for this world without an overhaul.
The rest of the car looks alright; the interior is clean and well-kept, and the body is straight. The paint on the plastic nose is more faded than the rest of the car, and the paint elsewhere is scratched up with swirl marks (black cars are impossible to keep looking good), but it’s presentable. There does seem to be a title issue that needs sorting out, and that’s in addition to the smog problems. That sort of paperwork trouble would scare me off, but some people don’t mind plunging into the heart of DMV darkness. And I guess if you’re brave enough to take this car on mechanically, a little title snafu isn’t going to faze you. Remember, this thing’s cheap; $2,300.
Two very different cars for two very different types of people. A solid, reliable, tidy Felix, or a fun but troublesome Oscar. Which member of our odd couple is right for you?