Happy Monday, Autopians! Today is all about compromises. We’re looking at a good example of a horrible car, and a horrible example of a good car. But before we get there, let’s see which overpriced toy you chose on Friday:
Yep. It’s hard to resist the appeal of the VW Scirocco. And someday, I would really like to have another one. But I sure as hell won’t pay twelve grand for it.
Let’s get back to some reasonably-priced fare, shall we? Doing that, of course, means giving something up, because you can’t have it all if you’re shopping at the bottom end of the market. So which do you choose: a clean, low-mileage example of a fundamentally undesirable car, or a desirable one that has been ridden hard and put away wet?
Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liver overhead-valve V6, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Odometer reading: 28,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does
The “malaise era” – a term coined by the celebrated Murilee Martin – is difficult to define, but the characteristics of the cars from that era are well-known: low power, poor build quality, gaudy trim, and utterly miserable driving characteristics. Generally, these traits can be found in cars from the mid-1970s, when emissions, safety, and fuel economy standards caught the American auto industry off-guard, to the mid-1980s, when technology finally started to catch up to the new regulations. All these cars were awful, but arguably the worst of the bunch were the early examples of the new breed of American cars: front-wheel-drive platforms still relying on old complicated carburetors, built in plants that didn’t know how to assemble the new designs, and put into production on a shoestring budget. Cars, for example, like the 1981 Oldsmobile Omega.
Oldsmobile’s version of the ill-fated X-platform featured slightly different bodywork, shared with the Buick Skylark, but was mechanically identical to the notorious Chevy Citation. This Omega is powered by the dreaded 2.8 liter V6, rather than the gutless but more reliable “Iron Duke” four. It powers the front wheels through – what else? – a three-speed automatic.
This car has only 28,000 miles on it, which accounts for its condition, and really, its existence in 2023 at all. Quality, reliability, and longevity were not words often associated with any domestic brands in 1981. The seller says it runs fine, and you can drive it home, and I guess what happens after that is your own problem. It’s not perfect; the bumper filler panels seem to have all disintegrated, and there is a minor dent behind the passenger-side door, but there is a very real possibility that this is the nicest ’81 Omega coupe left on the planet.
Whether that is reason enough to spend money on it today is a question I leave up to you.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter single overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Monroe, WA
Odometer reading: 218,000 miles
In sharp contrast to GM’s X-body fiasco, Honda’s second-generation CRX might just be the perfect small car. It’s lightweight, nimble, efficient, reasonably comfortable, rock-solid reliable, and wasn’t all that expensive when it was new. The Si model in particular was celebrated – it added just enough horsepower to wake up the chassis without sacrificing any of the CRX’s good qualities, and became a legend.
CRXs were built in sufficient numbers that they were available as cheap used cars for a long time, so they rode the import-tuner wave of the 1990s-2000s in the hands of their second or third owners, and all sorts of horrible things happened to them. Engines and suspensions were often haphazardly modified, body kits were slapped on, interiors were stripped out or hacked up, and the remaining CRXs that escaped such torture command some truly silly prices. Those that remain affordable are, well, like this.
The seller of this CRX at least appears to know a thing or two about cars, judging by the collection of classic Volkswagens visible in the photos. [Editor’s Note: Holy Shit a Type 3 Ghia! – JT] But this screaming yellow zonker lived a hard life before it came to this garage of wonders, and although they say it runs and drives well, one can only imagine the hard driving it has endured in its 34 years on the road. The misaligned body kit pieces and mismatched paint are disheartening enough, but look at the state of this interior plastic:
Granted, you could strip all that out and turn this car into a track toy, if it runs and drives as well as they claim. But it takes the right sort of person to want to do that to a car. Are you that sort?
So that’s our question for this Monday morning: Do you go for something empirically awful but well-preserved, or something once-wonderful but beaten half to death?
(Image credits: Olds – Facebook seller, Honda – Craigslist seller)