Welcome to another Friday edition of Shitbox Showdown! To cap off this week, we’re giving our losing cars a second chance, because as the late great Tom Petty once told us, “Even the losers get lucky sometimes.” So let’s see which car took home yesterday’s participation trophy, and we can get started:
I expected as much. Sorry to say I can’t bring myself to join you in this Subaru love-fest; the only Subarus I’d even consider are a Brat or an XT. I’m not crazy about the Nissan with the slushbox, but I’ll take it over induction into the Cult of the Flat Four.
Having said that, I try really hard to find something positive to say about every car I choose here. There are times I pick something as a foil for a car I actually like, like this week’s surprise-upset Impala, but even that car I don’t actively dislike. So today, to play devil’s advocate, I’m going to try to talk you all into these four second-fiddles, and then you can tell me, via vote and/or comment, if I’ve swayed you. Let’s recap:
Let me just start by acknowledging the obvious: yes, this car would be a more enticing proposition with a manual gearbox. Small cars with small engines are ill-suited to automatics, but the fact is that zillions of them have been sold here in the US so equipped. Sometimes it’s all you can find. I’ve spent plenty of wheel time in various small cars with automatics, including a Ford Escort that I drove for many years and on many adventures, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not always about what you drive, or how you drive; sometimes it’s all about where you drive. Would my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have been more fun in a car with a stick? Maybe. Would the scenery have been any less pretty? Not a bit.
And okay, this car is nowhere near as clean as advertised. But it’s still not bad at all, especially for the mileage. The described “slipping” between gears in the transmission is probably what’s called “shift flare,” a brief lapse in engagement between gears, which is typically a much easier fix than actual transmission slippage (when an automatic transmission actually starts slipping, believe me, you know it), and less detrimental if you just ignore it. It’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t be a deal-killer.
Basically, stop fussing so much over how many pedals it has, and just accept it for the funky little teal jellybean of a car that it is. This would be a great city beater, or first car for a kid.
And on we go to Nissan Number Two. Overpowered, badly abused, questionably titled, and with a reputation that precedes it by a country mile, this car somehow got beat by a dull-as-rice-cakes Chevy Impala. What kind of car enthusiasts are you all? Six speeds! Two hundred and forty horsepower! Red and black leather seats! I mean, come on. Where else are you going to get this much entertainment for less than two grand? Okay, yes, there’s the bad power steering pump, and possibly rack too, but that’s just an excuse to take stuff apart. And some of you expressed concerns that it might be rustier than it looks, but we’re not talking long-term commitment here. This is a fling car, the sort you have your fun with and then unload on the next bright-eyed sucker. Fix the steering yourself, and you might even be able to turn a small profit.
And yes, the fact that it’s an Altima means it includes a full set of custom-fitted cultural baggage. But why not lean into it? Be the safest, most courteous Altima driver around, and that still gives you a lot of leeway. What happens in the fast lane behind the wheel of a Nissan Altima, stays in the fast lane behind the wheel of a Nissan Altima.
Five grand. That’s what the seller is asking for this Isuzu Faster in a bowtie. Probably not much less than it sold for new, when WKRP In Cincinnati was in its heyday. Little trucks from this era were cool when they were new, then they became dirt-cheap beaters, a condition from which most of them perished. A select few like this one stayed nice, and they’ve gotten cool again, and prices have risen commensurately. And really, five grand is nothing compared to what some Toyotas and Datsuns are going for. You want a classic mini-truck, this is what it costs.
So what do you get for your money? A clean-as-a-whistle little truck, with some half-finished custom work in the interior, a surprising lack of rust, and heaps of character. Did you know these have front-hinged hoods? And check out those rope hooks on the sides of the bed. I mean, kudos to Ford for making a small(ish) truck again, but the Maverick has got nothing on this thing when it comes to cool. And how many other classics can haul a half-ton of whatever you want?
When you ask most people to categorize a Pontiac Firebird, they would call it a “muscle car.” But it’s not – it’s a pony car, and that’s a whole different animal, so to speak. The Ford Mustang that started the whole pony car craze (and of course gave it its name) wasn’t fast, to begin with. It was just cool-looking, and bargain-priced. It didn’t get fast until Carroll Shelby got his hands on it. This means that when GM entered the fray a couple of years later with the Firebird and Chevy Camaro, they had to make fast versions from the get-go. But at its heart, the Firebird in its simplest form, like this one, is only designed to be cool-looking, and bargain-priced.
As such, the six-cylinder engine and three-speed stick in this car suit the Firebird’s mission really well. The “stovebolt” six-cylinder engine, borrowed from Chevy, is a bulletproof design, and connecting it to the most basic of all automotive transmissions keeps the costs down, both for the original buyer, and for repair bills now. And you can’t deny that a long Hurst gearshift lever coming up out of the tunnel isn’t cool-looking. Sure, it needs a little work, and it’s no match for a Hyundai Accent, let alone its Trans Am sibling, in the performance department. But fix it up, and you could enjoy it for a long time. Take it to a classic car meetup, pop the hood, and enthusiasts who have already seen their share of SD 455s and Bandit-styled Trans Ams will flock to it for its base-model novelty.
So there they are, this week’s second fiddles, and my most compelling arguments for considering them. The cars that beat them had their moment of glory in the sun; now it’s time for one of these to shine. Which one moves you?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)