Welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Our mid-week selections come to us once again courtesy of the Underappreciated Survivors group on Facebook, and never have two cars been better examples. Neither one of them has any sort of enthusiast following, neither one of them has hit 60,000 miles yet, and neither one costs more than three grand out the door.
Yesterday, we looked at two other survivors, but from the sounds of it, most of you definitely appreciated them. Accords and Camrys have both been part of the American car landscape for so long that everybody has a story about one or the other. And they’re pretty similar and interchangeable cars, when you get right down to it, which is reflected in the vote: basically a dead heat.
The choice for most of you seems to have come down to the Toyota’s better condition versus the Honda’s conventional seatbelts. Me, I’d take the Honda, but in truth I’d probably keep shopping before buying either.
And that brings me to today’s choices. I’ve long thought that the best choice for an inexpensive used car is a non-enthusiast vehicle with low miles, the so-called “Grandma-mobile.” No, you can’t get them with a stick; don’t even ask. Yes, that howl from the tires around corners is normal; it means slow down. No, you shouldn’t eat that petrified hard candy you found in the glovebox; good grief, do they even still make that stuff anymore?
If you are only going to have one car, I could see why maybe you wouldn’t want it to be something like these. But if you plan to have a fun car in sketchy condition, and need a reliable daily driver, you could do a lot worse. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.1 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Bristol, PA
Odometer reading: 58,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives great
Believe it or not, the Chevy Lumina was, once upon a time, sleek and futuristic. It replaced the brutally rectilinear A-body Celebrity in Chevy’s lineup, a couple years after the rest of the W-body cars came out, and not everyone was a fan. I remember one old-timer when I worked at the service station who clung to a rusty ’83 Malibu rather than replace it because he couldn’t stand “those new blobby Chevys.”
Really, the Lumina was pretty conservative. It still had a bench seat and a column-mounted shifter, it carried over the same 60-degree V6 and overdrive automatic from the Celebrity, and just look at all that fake woodgrain. Yes, you could get a sportier Lumina, but the vast majority of them looked like this one. This is a one-owner car for sale by a dealership; I get the feeling it came from someone’s estate. The only info we get is that it runs and drives great, and that it includes the original owner’s manual and window sticker, which is kind of cool.
I do applaud the dealership for resisting the urge to steam-clean the engine. Grimy engines tell a story, and this one is telling me that it has the typical 3.1 valve cover leaks, and probably some more as well. That intake plenum is supposed to be shiny machined aluminum, not covered in gray-brown gunk. “Only driving to church on Sundays” has its drawbacks; fix the oil leaks, and then go give it a nice Italian tuneup.
The rest of it looks good. The inside is a little grubby, but it should clean up all right. With the low miles, you’d be wise to check the date codes on the tires; they could be ten years old and desperately in need of replacement.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Tonica, IL
Odometer reading: 59,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives great
The Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim were replacements for square cars, too: the original Aries and Reliant K-cars. Designated the AA-body, the Spirit and Acclaim were still pretty boxy, but a lot more handsome than the K-cars. Mechanically, the AA was largely an improved K-car, but that’s not a bad thing. Keep making the same car for a decade or so, and you’re bound to iron out the kinks.
The Spirit is powered by a 2.5 liter version of the K-engine, with balance shafts to smooth it out and throttle-body fuel injection for reliability and drivability. It uses the same tried-and-true Torqueflite three-speed automatic that Chrysler used for decades. It runs great, according to the seller, and needs nothing – but again, check the dates on the tires.
Sadly, we don’t get any interior or underhood photos with this one, except for this shot of the dash. It’s as dull and old-fashioned as the Lumina inside, probably with a split-bench seat as well. The Spirit was also available in a high-performance version, and it put the Lumina Z34 to shame, but just try finding one of those for sale. This plain-Jane Spirit is scarce enough.
If it’s as clean inside as it looks on the outside, I’d say this car is in fine shape. I always liked the looks of the Spirit and Acclaim, even if they look like the generic cars used in advertising. They look simple and honest, without a hint of pretense about their mission or status, and that is to be admired.
Don’t get me wrong; no one is claiming that these cars are even remotely exciting. But I still maintain that a big part of the excitement of a car comes not from what it is, but from where it goes. Boring cars become interesting when they play a part in good stories. With that in mind, I want you to not only choose a car, but comment on where you would road-trip it to. Both of these cars are begging for exercise. Which one, and where to?
(Image credits: Facebook Marketplace sellers)