Rabbits, Quantums, Clippers, Matadors: Quite The Foursome, Which One’s Yours?

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Hello Autopians! Well, would you look at that. It’s Friday again already! Time for another weekly roundup. Of course, we need to know what the fourth car we’re rounding up is, so let’s check yesterday’s results:

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Really? Come on, you guys. No kid ever spent hours driving a toy beige sedan around the sandbox. (Well, maybe some kids did, but no kids I knew.) But I guess, if you’d rather have Dick Teague’s funny-looking four door instead of a real live fire truck, that’s your choice.

I did like the suggestion of turning the fire truck into a mobile taproom. Especially here in Portland, I feel like that would be a big hit. Park it next to the nearest taco truck and watch the sales roll in.

So with that, our foursome is set: two Reagan-era Volkswagens and two American orphan sedans. Let’s take another look at them.

1981 VW Rabbit Diesel – $1,000

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As I think I mentioned, I have fond memories of another old VW diesel: a white two-door Dasher that my mom drove when I was in grade school. It was slow, and noisy, and got a bazillion miles to the gallon, and she absolutely drove the wheels off it. It had air conditioning, and you could feel when it kicked in: it’s like the car dropped anchor. But speed isn’t everything, and my goal on Monday was to find cars that could hit fifty miles to the gallon. So here it is.

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I still want to know the story behind its Evel Knievel tramp-stamp. But it’s charming, and you’d certainly be able to spot it in a parking lot. This Rabbit needs a little mechanical attention, but there are so many VW diesel aficionados around that it shouldn’t be a problem to get it clattering down the road again. All four cars this week are projects to some degree or another, but this one is the one I’d personally be most likely to take on. Cheap and cheerful, just how I like ’em.

1988 VW Quantum Wagon – $1,400

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Rabbit too small for you, but you still want that ’80s VW goodness? This Quantum GL-5 beat out a pretty but dying Dodge Daytona in our vote. It’s a wagon, and a manual, and weird. Generally a winning combination around these parts.

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It does need to have reverse gear fixed, or the transmission exchanged for a junkyard unit (if you can find one), but that’s worth doing. This car has that wonderful Audi five-cylinder engine in it, good road manners, cavernous cargo space, and a cool offbeat vibe to it. I dig it. This is a close second for me.

1954 Packard Clipper – $1,200

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The phrase “they don’t make ’em like they used to” might have been coined for Packard. This grand old lady would have been the jewel of the neighborhood in 1954, even in low-level Clipper trim. With its silky-smooth inline eight and ingenious “Ultradrive” automatic transmission, noise, vibration, and harshness were things that applied to other cars, not Packard.

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This car is well beyond my abilities and resources to bring back, unless I could devote myself to it exclusively. But it’s the one I’d most like to see back on the road out of these four. It’s number four for me personally, but if someone did see this old Packard, fell in love with it, and decided to return it to its rightful condition, I’d be very happy. My finder’s fee is that I get to drive it once. Sound fair?

1978 AMC Matador – $1,500

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Let’s be clear: I don’t dislike this car. It’s funny-looking, but by most accounts a reliable and comfortable way to get down the road, and if you’re willing to patch up a couple holes in the floor, in good shape. I just would want an old fire truck more, given the hypothetical choice. But with both vehicles sitting in front of me, yeah, I’d probably choose this old Matador as well.

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The biggest appeal to me of these ’70s cruisers is the interior. The “Malaise Era” may have done terrible things to the engine compartments of American cars, but it also brought some wonderful cabins. This car’s plush bench and fake woodgrain dash look homey and inviting, and I just know that three-spoke steering wheel (the same as a Jeep, I think?) and column shifter both feel good in your hands. This is my third choice out of the four, but only because I have more familiarity with old VWs than with old AMCs.

So that’s it for this week. I’ve seen several comments on some of the more oddball cars requesting more of the same. I’m all for that, so I’ll try to find some more oddities. Of course, occasionally, we should look at a few sensible choices here and there as well. It’s all about balance, right? See you next week!

Quiz Maker

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44 Responses

  1. Packard wins. You can’t buy that patina. That took years of neglect in the right environment. I would work to preserve the exterior exactly as it is. I imagine that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I think it would look great. I would restore the interior and anything mechanical, though.

  2. These are all project cars, not shitboxes. None of them run or drive safely as-is. All will require significant time and money invested to even remotely be drivable.

    So I gotta go Packard. Because fuck it. This is exclusively ‘project cars.’ Uncommon, silky-smooth, torquey Americana cruiser wins out by far. Parts for the Packard are easy to source (there’s no fucking way that Rabbit just needs something small,) the body is very intact, the frame is clearly intact. You need to look at it with a “restorer’s eye” not your regular eyes. That means you’re looking for missing panels, rot as opposed to oxidization, cuts you can’t source, things like that. And I don’t necessarily see anything where you’d need to get the English wheel out.

    Which means you’ve got a very, very good shot at it being sanding, hardware, filler, and paint only. It’s not going to be a cheap job, but nothing is these days. What’s important is that every body panel and piece of glass is present and intact, the irreplaceable brightwork is not only intact but in excellent condition (re-chroming is to be expected,) and any missing/broken pieces can be sourced.

    None of these cars is going to sell for more than you have to put into it to get it running safely anyways. So may as well put the money into having the smoothest Americana luxobarge in town with a glorious two-tone blue and turquoise paint job.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/67/1954_Packard_Clipper_De_Luxe_Touring_Sedan.jpg/800px-1954_Packard_Clipper_De_Luxe_Touring_Sedan.jpg?20150306224205

    1. Yeah, the perverts who advanced either of those reprehensible Volkswagen horrors are only out-dweebed by the Philistines who’d be caught dead in a FOUR-DOOR BEIGE AMC of precisely the ugliest year.

      The Packard is lovely, and even though it’s not a particularly fancy fire truck, the fire truck is a better acquisition than both VWs and the AMC combined, even if you threw in a lifetime subscription to Xbox Live.

      Gimme that Packard and all you non-Packard and non-fire truck voters go eat some more paint chips.

      1. While water-cooled VWs certainly have their issues, they still are the cheapest way to get into a German car. This cheapness also extends to parts, which due to volume are far cheaper than parts for other German makes.
        And hey, I’d wrench on an old Rabbit of Dasher than try and figure out how a CVCC Honda works. Or wrestle with yet another recalcitrant Toyota wheel bearing. Or swap out a thermostat on a BMW.

        1. How a CVCC Honda works? How is that hard? I owned three of them between 1989 and 1994 (a ’77 Accord, a ’78 Accord, and an ’81 Civic) and they all ran like trouble-free tops for nearly 200K miles apiece, which ain’t shabby for that era. They were fun to drive, too. Lots of cool little details that showed a lot of thought.

  3. This is the first SSFFFA that actually gave me some pause in a decision.

    I really wanted to choose the Quantum. It doesn’t need a lot and that interior is so *chef’s kiss* through and through. It got a characterful 5 cylinder and a long roof to boot. The whole “no reverse” thing is only as bad as you want it to be. You could replace or rebuild the gearbox, but what’s the fun in that.

    But the Matador, man. That’s pretty clean. It’s also got character, front and back, a big lazy AMC V8 and leg room…shoulder room, and ass room for weeks. I’m moving towards middle age and comfort matters. I’m also a dad, so a car that’s described as “dad get up noise” is appropriate. I think it’d be a lot more comfortable and pleasant to drive most of the time. Plus it probably has reverse. Cool.

    AMC-FTW.

  4. To the Autopian content providers-

    I’ve followed you folks from Jalopnik to here hoping for the best.

    I just don’t get what the Shitbox Showdown is about but you folks sure seem to spend a lot of time on it.

    It doesn’t appear to be about useable or even restorable vehicles. It appears to be about acquiring new (to you) lawn ornaments for cheap.

    Yes, I understand it’s cheap and easy to write this stuff. You just need to find some shitboxes locally advertised and similarly priced and go take some photos.

    After that, you can toss in whatever words you want. Call it a word salad.

    And content magically appears! Good Job!

    I was tempted to end there but I feel I must suggest an alternative premise for a future series.

    How about “Daily Driver Shitbox”? I spend way more on a years worth of insurance and fuel than I pay to purchase and mechanically maintain a shitbox.

    I think that the trials and tribulations of owning a daily driven shitbox would make for interesting content. In many parts of the world driving and maintaining a daily driven shitbox is a way of life.
    Folks fabricate parts with little resources. They come up with creative solutions to super expensive replacement components.

    Yes, I love classics, and muscle cars, and exotics, and other weird old shit. But I daily drive a shitbox.

    A major mechanical failure costs more to repair than the shitbox is worth? Fine. I move on to the next shitbox.

    Motor blows up halfway across country? Toss the keys on the seat and walk away.

    Someone should write a poem about shitbox love 🙂

    1. I actually think this series would have a broader appeal if it was more than shitboxes.

      Idea:
      Monday – Shitbox or $1000 challenge
      Tuesday – $5000 challenge
      Wednesday – $10K challenge
      Thursday – $25K challenge
      Friday – $50K challenge

      No, you couldn’t directly compare them at the end of the week like we do now for an overall winner, but there’s just a lot more opportunity for interesting matchups if the price caps are varied.

    2. It’s never about the voting, it’s about the discussions that result from the dilemma. More than an up or down vote, you need to actually research the contestants, and listen to those who have experience with these vehicles.
      I expect some variations on the theme in the future, but this is a nice alternative to NP or ND for the moment.

      1. That’s what I love about these: you get that one guy that’s had 17 of whatever shitbox, and can tell us what the Achilles heel is, which models to avoid, and what unicorn is a donor for a manual-swap.

  5. I had a very similar Quantum and what’s nice is that the trans is relatively easy to remove single handed. I know this because my throwout bearing kept popping off the forks. Never figured out why. I was asked if I was putting it on the right way around but I remember it being very specific. Anyway these are real easy to swap transmissions on.

  6. I can’t believe that the first comment I read was an LS swap into the Packard. Some peoples kids…

    Packard all the way. Full restoration, including new two tone paint and period correct interior. You’d have the only one at cars and coffee (or one of DT’s meet-ups).

    1. I have a friend with one of these. The description of how smooth that engine is are only very slight exaggerations. Karen’s Clipper is a land yacht but so very nice, also the pictures do not do justice to the actual size of these things, they’re truly huge and yet can glide along without feeling like you’re driving a log float across the ocean.

    2. Nothing wrong with a LS transplant, it’s somewhat affordable, makes good power and is easy to tune. There’s plenty of nice examples that are stowed away in museums and garage’s around the country…why not make it where you can enjoy it easily and drive it just as easily as well? And I’m far from a kid and swap LS engines into anything I can find… What happens next is what I love to see… People driving old iron all over instead of it gaining dust or rust.

  7. The Packard…. Nothing else. Soon as it rolls off the trailer. It’s getting disconnected from it’s frame, set on one of the many chassis I have laying around. Full LS running gear with AC, some Detroit steel wheels and pinner whites, hydraulics with accumulators to get away from the nosebleed section. And full comfy interior, I’ll leave the exterior alone.

  8. I was all set to dig in and decide between finding solace with the Quantum or dreaming about restoring the straight eight without covering that glorious patina in anything but clear. Then I scrolled down to the protest vote. We have a double decker bus to drink coffee in here, but if I could, I would be eating Matt’s BBQ tacos and drinking beer from a firetruck.

  9. Still leaping, cause I really like the Quantum.
    Sure the FIRETRUCK would be fun to see running and the Packard is beautiful and an interesting time capsule, but at the end of the day the Quantum would serve me better, without sacrificing my quality of life.

  10. I’m of two minds on this one. the car I’d be most likely to buy is probably the AMC, especially if it were a little less (who knows how rusty it really is underneath?). But the car that I’d love to see back on the road is the Packard. Purchase price is cheap enough, but I have a feeling sourcing a lot of semi-rare parts is going to make that an expensive project.

  11. Kind of a toss-up between the Quantum and the Packard, but had to go with the Packard. If I actually needed a car, it would have been the Quantum for sure – at least that was drivable right away and wouldn’t smoke my wallet for gas. However, since I already have plenty to stuff to daily, it’s on to the project-levels cars and that Packard’s patina floats my boat.

  12. I think I would’ve liked the AMC more if it was something with an Inline 6. But, I voted for it out of these choices anyway.

    My 1970s big car dreams lie in the Pontiac and Oldsmobile dealerships, and have fewer doors. But, I’d drive the Barcelona because it’s a neat old car. I should’ve voted for it before for that reason alone.

  13. The AMC…there is just nothing there for me. Even the “plush seating” looks deflated. Probably just have a spring pushing into your backside these days.

    The VWs require their own work to be useful. And really aren’t worth it to my eye, but I’m not a VW nut.

    Packard project it is.

    1. Had a straight 8 Buick for a daily back in the 70’s can attest to the awesomeness.
      That said if I have to choose I’d take the Matador (even though it isn’t a Matador X with the highly desirable Oleg Cassini Interior).
      I’d paint it Yellow and put period correct Wisconsin Cheese Head license plates on it with a Y10 prefix as an homage to Milwaukee PD’s Narc Squad cars of the era.

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