Good morning! Today on Shitbox Showdown, I’m taking it easy on you all. I know some of our choices have been a bit left-of-center recently, so I’m making up for it by featuring two cars you might actually want. Imagine that! But first, let’s take care of yesterday’s rusty foolishness:
Mr. Plow wins it by a country mile. Me? I’m on team Rampage; the Comanche never did much for me. If I want a small 4×4 truck from that era, it’s going to be a Nissan. But I always did like the Rampage’s baby-El-Camino vibe.
Anyway, let’s move away from the rust belt and take a look at a couple of ultra-clean West Coast cars. The complete lack of rust on these cars, and millions like them, is part of what makes car culture so great over on this side of the country. Seeing old relics like these that have the time to wear out mechanically instead of rotting away from underneath makes up for the weirdos, the taxes, the wildfires, the looming threat of “The Big One,” and the population doubling every few years. Well, it almost makes up for it. Usually.
Oh, and by the way, I specifically chose two manuals, to take transmission issues out of the decision. Everyone knows stickshifts make better cheap used cars anyway. Let’s take a look.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Lynnwood, WA
Odometer reading: 313,000 miles
Runs/drives? Just fine
As gearheads, I’m sure you all get asked the same question by your friends when they’re in need of a vehicle: “What car should I buy?”
“Toyota Camry,” is usually my answer.
“But they’re boring! I want something fun.”
“Oh. Then a Honda Accord. With a stick.”
Rarely do they listen. And thus has the humble four-cylinder manual-transmission Accord remained one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to motoring fun on a budget. Sadly, this dream team of a basic four-banger and a five-speed disappeared from the option sheet some years ago. But the good news is that these things run for-freaking-ever, so you have plenty of used options. Like this one.
In this fourth-generation Accord, the role of “basic four-banger” is played by a 2.2 liter overhead cam engine. Like most non-performance-oriented Honda engines, it prioritizes economy and refinement over sheer power, but it was no slouch in its day, especially with a manual. This one has over 300,000 miles on it, but still runs just fine. I know our fearless leader had some bad luck with an Accord, but he’s very much in the minority.
I’m quite fond of Honda interiors from this era; they’re just so clean and purposeful. This one has an aftermarket radio held in by what looks like packing tape, but that appears to be its biggest flaw. One drawback to the early fourth-generation cars is the motorized seat belts. You get used to them, as long as they keep working properly, but I don’t think anybody really likes them.
And I don’t mean to rub it in, to those of you in saltier places, but just look at how clean this thing is! These Accords are notorious for developing rust-through behind the rear wheels where the quarter panel meets the bumper – not a speck on this one. Hell, even the clearcoat looks decent on it. Someone took care of this car.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Edmonds, WA
Odometer reading: 160,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but needs a new starter (it’s included)
Ford likes to throw the term “World Car” around, and this little car might be the best example of that. It rides on a Japanese-derived Mazda BG chassis, with American-styled body, a European-designed engine under the hood, and the whole thing was put together in Mexico. This thing is from everywhere. And the best thing about this international stew of parts is that it works really well.
This was the second time Ford tried to make a sporty two-door Escort. The first, the Escort EXP from the 1980s, looked sort of cool, but it drove and performed like, well, a 1980s Escort. The ZX2 did quite a lot better, packing Ford’s two-liter Zetec twin-cam four under the hood, along with the handling goodness of that Mazda chassis. The combination makes for quite a fun car to drive.
Unfortunately, at the moment, this ZX2 will require a push or a hill before you can enjoy it. The starter conked out, and the seller bought a replacement but didn’t install it. I’m not sure why that was the final straw for this car, but for some reason it was. They replaced lots of other things, and these cars are generally pretty reliable, so if you’re handy with a wrench and have a pair of jack stands, you could take care of the starter issue pretty easily.
The rest of the car is in good condition. As inexpensive fun cars, these tend to get used up and abused; this is the cleanest one I’ve seen for this cheap for a while. And at only 160,000 miles, it should have plenty of life left.
Well, there they are. My hope is that after many cries of “ugh, neither” over the past few days, these two will give you something to honestly think about. Either one would make a good cheap runabout. Do you want a legendary reputation with more miles, but less excitement, or do you want something a little thrashier and possibly more fragile, but a hoot to drive?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)