Home » Nicest Ones Left: 1992 Dodge Shadow Convertible vs 1988 Mazda 323 SE Hatchback

Nicest Ones Left: 1992 Dodge Shadow Convertible vs 1988 Mazda 323 SE Hatchback

Sbsd 8 4 2023
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Happy Friday, Autopians! Today we’re looking at two cars I pulled from the Underappreciated Survivors For Sale group on Facebook. They’ve got to be just about the cleanest examples of their breeds left; seriously, wait till you see these things. But first, let’s see how yesterday’s pint-sized pair fared:

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Narrow win for the 126P. That would be my choice as well; if I got a kei-sized truck, I think I’d rather have a Hijet with a dump bed on it. And I have always wanted a rear-engine Fiat or Renault, for no good reason.

One of my favorite used car categories is the well-preserved ordinary car. There’s just something about seeing something that should have been beaten to death, junked, and recycled into toasters decades ago still gleaming in the midday sun that makes me smile. They’re not the bargains they once were, but clean survivors are still out there if you look. One of today’s pair is certainly overpriced, at least by my standards, and the other is borderline, but it’s so charming that I still think it’s a good buy. Let’s see if you agree.

1992 Dodge Shadow Convertible – $4,950

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Black River Falls, WI

Odometer reading: 84,000 miles

Runs/drives? Great, according to the seller

The Dodge Shadow is one of those cars that instantly places you back in its time when you see it. Once upon a time, Dodge Shadows and Plymouth Sundances were everywhere. But as cheap cars tend to, they got used and abused, and had nearly all disappeared by the end of the decade. They exist now almost exclusively in memory, so when you see one, especially this new-looking, your mind goes back to the days of Bill Clinton and Jurassic Park. And it’s teal, with pink pinstripes. The only way this thing could be more early ’90s is if it were driven by the bass player of the Spin Doctors.

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Everyone knew someone who had one of these. An ex-girlfriend of mine drove a Sundance for a while. She really liked it, except for a draft of cold air coming from somewhere under the dashboard in the winter. I told her I had never noticed a draft when I drove it, and she replied, “Yeah, but you’ve never driven it in a skirt, have you?”

Fair point.

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Plymouth never got the convertible version; it was strictly available as a Dodge Shadow, in various trim levels. This looks like a mid-level one, with a 2.5 liter version of Chrysler’s long-running four that debuted in the K-car. The 2.5 has a bit more power than the 2.2, and is equipped with balance shafts for a little more refinement. The seller says this one runs and drives like it should, and everything works. It even still has the tonneau cover that fits over the top when it’s down.

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And it really is clean. Central Wisconsin isn’t exactly a forgiving environment for cars six months out of the year, and I have a feeling that this one has never seen a single winter. Which is fine, as long as it gets plenty of use the rest of the year.

1988 Mazda 323 SE Hatchback – $8,999

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Sylmar, CA

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Odometer reading: 62,000 miles

Runs/drives? Flawlessly, from the sound of it

I try not to make fun of the ads for cars, but one line in this ad jumped out at me: “Disclaimer: Offers from discerning classic/collectible auto enthusiasts will be considered ONLY.” Well, pardon me, but I’m off to play the grand piano. It’s a Mazda 323, dude. Come on. Granted, it’s probably the nicest Mazda 323 anyone has seen since they were in showrooms, but it’s still a mass-produced economy car, not a hand-built Italian exotic or something.

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This BF-platform 323 is powered by a 1.6 liter engine making 82 horsepower, but a good chunk of that is sucked away by a three-speed automatic transmission that someone probably paid quite a lot extra for in 1988. The seller says this is a two-owner car, and the original owner was elderly, barely drove it, and kept it in a garage. It has had a recent timing belt service, all fluids changed, and a new battery installed. However, if I were you, I’d check the date codes on the tires; no mention is made of them having been replaced, and they could be twenty years old.

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Honestly, I feel a little sorry for this car. Cars like this were meant to have been bought by recent college graduates, proudly driven to their new job at the office park, carried them through all kinds of adventures, taken them on that first date with Mister or Miss Right (and countless Mister and Miss Wrongs), been traded in on a Honda Odyssey after the second kid came along, and gone on to become some teenager’s first car, loved and abused at the same time. Instead, this one did pretty much nothing.

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There’s still time to take it to Radwood or something, I suppose, where it would undoubtedly draw a crowd, but I would hope that whoever buys it would take it to an event five states away, and drive it there. This poor car needs some exercise.

I don’t imagine the sellers of either of these cars wants to see them get used like regular cars, but the fact is, they are just regular cars. Time capsules, yes, but just cars. It’s my opinion that all cars should be driven, even the “priceless” ones, and these are certainly not those. The age of gasoline is going away all too quickly; do we want to leave behind pristine examples of vehicles that can no longer be driven anyway, or a bunch of worn-out husks full of awesome memories? Which one of these do you want to use up?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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A Meyer
A Meyer
9 months ago

Two extremely well preserved relics from the time when cars came in actual colors. Evidence that you used to be able to get something other than depression grey; they’d be valuable for that reason even if nothing else.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
9 months ago

The Mazda price is farcical..
I had an early 80s 323 with 5 speed manual and the 1.3 engine. I lusted after one with all the power of a 1.6 😉
My girlfriend had a Citi Golf with 1.6 and manual which was so much more fun to drive it was like another species entirely.

Paid R5000 for it, about $5500 at that time, 20k miles so essentially new. Sold it for R5000 six years later in 1990, about $3000 given inflation and exchange rate changes.
Once I sank it in a mudhole on the way to a mountaineering trip, nearly died in it twice. It served as reliable transportation for which I am still grateful, but it was never any kind of car fun. With a 3 speed manual it must be an absolute slug. Ew.

Dirk from metro Atlanta
Dirk from metro Atlanta
9 months ago

“this one did pretty much nothing.”

62 thousand miles from a presumed retiree who may have done some incredible things with their time, is hardly “nothing.”

I’m not saying that’s ageist…but it’s certainly presumptuous.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
9 months ago

The Dodge doesnt really do much for me,its just a boring old convertible. The Mazda would be better in manual spec of course,but it would still be fun do use once in a while for some errands and stuff. However the Mazda is grossly overpriced,hard one today Mark.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago

As nice condition as that Mazda is in the ask is way too much money for too little car with the wrong transmission.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
9 months ago

Too much for the 323, they’re both automatics so cubic inches win, and the Shadow’s a convertible. I already daily a hatchback so I’m not looking for practical in a fun car.

Matthew Humphrey
Matthew Humphrey
9 months ago

Shadow: Because it’s the one of the Homeward Bound trio whose name I always forget.
And also it looks fantastic. glad it’s too far for me to get.
Lub me dem Ks.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
9 months ago

That Shadow is AMAZING. Excellent contenders and match-up, Mark!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

At these miles driven make sure the gas is still good. But yeah a concertible at half the price and more power? Shadow gonna throw shade on the Mazda.

DDayJ
DDayJ
9 months ago

I’m taking the drop top Dodge with my dog and hitting up Dairy Queen on a warm summer night.

Dirk from metro Atlanta
Dirk from metro Atlanta
9 months ago
Reply to  DDayJ

Yep. More fun, lower price.

Cargeek!
Cargeek!
9 months ago

Dodge all the WAY!

A firend of mine had one of these it was black. We were all geeks and played D&D. Anyway four of us cruising with the roof down and listing to some 90’s Hip Hop whiel going off to hang out at the mall. We were at a light and these girl drive up beside us in a 2000ish covertable Beetel. A buddy of mine looks over at them and says:

“Hey ladies,nice ride! Wa’na race?”

Many good times with that crappy little car and Geeky friends!

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
9 months ago

Dodge Shadow Convertible!
Also, that Midget should have won!!!

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
9 months ago

The Dodge’s price is at least a good starting point. I wouldn’t want to deal with the Mazda’s seller.

Plus, I like convertibles, and – just like yesterday – one of these cars is turquoise, and the other isn’t. Shadow, for sure.

(The friend I knew who had a Shadow used it as a barn car – he took the hatch off, making it a pickup of sorts.)

Myk El
Myk El
9 months ago

I voted without noticing the prices. Yeah, slam dunk for the shadow with the difference in dollars.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
9 months ago
Reply to  Myk El

Yeah, that 323 is clean but a ripoff!

Chris D
Chris D
9 months ago
Reply to  Freelivin2713

The 323 was Mazda’s cheapest car at the time. (You could also get a 626 or a 929… but no 12212). The asking price is probably more than its MSRP when new.
So the Shadow it is – someone will enjoy the heck out of it for a few years, until it goes the way the rest of the K cars have already gone.

Black Peter
Black Peter
9 months ago

I was all set to vote for the 323. I had the Tracer version from about ’99 until it’s untimely yet spectacular death. It was a fine car, but not a $9000 car. I think I paid $400. It’s spectacular death was caused by a weeping water pump, that dripped coolant onto the alternator shaft. Driving home the dash lights came on, the car stalled. A helpful pick up truck driver (Austin used to be cool) gently pushed me out of traffic, (communicating with hand signals). The car was boiling over, the alternator belt was gone, and the alternator was locked up. I poured about a gallon of water I had on hand into the radiator, but is wasn’t enough, while pouring in the water I noticed the head gasket was bubbling. OK, water pump, alternator, head gasket, all in my abilities, and not too much money yet. So with not much to lose I figured I’d top off the water from the creek nearby. On retuning to the car, I saw a stream running from under the car. The water was pouring out as fast as it was going in. Cracked block, that’s outside my skillset. Poor little Tracer, we covered thousand of miles around Austin together, loaded thing into it that no one believed would fit, sang along to great turn of the century classics taking my son to and from school.

William Eby
William Eby
9 months ago
Reply to  Black Peter

I had a similar 323. I bought mine for $800 in 2003. It was a bare bones model, manual as well. Was a hoot to drive, even survived a deer hit (down the driver side of the car) but it was too basic. I needed airco in the summer. I couldn’t see spending $9k on a 323 unless it was a GTX. I especially don’t want this one because of the automatic.

I only chose the 323 because I don’t care for convertibles (especially automatics) even more.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
9 months ago

Had friend with both back when they were relatively new.

The 323 was definitely the superior car, though the price asked here is absolutely insane, especially for an automatic.

My friend’s Shadow convertible was an entraining car, but not necessarily in a good way. It had the structural rigidity of wet noodles. The roof leaked like a screen door at every interface point. Turning into raised parking lots was hilarious because you could see the car flex to the point the top would try to unclip.

Black Peter
Black Peter
9 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

completely insane.. now if it was the hot version..

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago

I should vote for the Shadow (color, no roof), but the 323 is such a good car. Also weird in that the “senior grade” SE model got that weird sticker placement; more suitable for some youth-oriented special version.
Trivia: this generation 323 was built in South Africa for over a decade. After the next generation 323 (BG) had replaced this version in the UK, someone decide to import the older version from South Africa. Mazda wouldn’t let them sell it with Mazda badging, however, so it was sold as the Sao Penza for a pretty short time, and only in 90s jellybean colors like the one the Shadow wears.

Ricki
Ricki
9 months ago

Holy shit that Shadow.

Too bad about the steering wheel though. (I think I’ve discovered my posting gimmick.)

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
9 months ago

To the Mazda dude: go throw it up on BaT if you think the hoi polloi aren’t worthy.

I’m pulling on a pair of LA Gears, grabbing my cassette of Weird Al’s “Alapalooza,” and cruising the Shadow.

Last edited 9 months ago by ColoradoFX4
Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
9 months ago

I’m not really a fan of convertibles… so give me the Mazda

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