Good morning, Autopians! Get ready for more cheap car shenanigans. Today we’re looking at a couple of sports cars that have seen some things. But first, let’s see which ’80s wagon you picked:
Well then, fire up the Lindsey Buckingham, because it’s time to hit the Holiday Road! Honestly, I like them both; I’d probably favor the Peugeot just because it’s smaller and easier to park. In fact, it looks like those bars on the graph are just about representative of the cars’ respective lengths. Did you guys plan that?
Today, I’ve found us a couple of fun-to-drive stickshift sports cars for cheap. Why so cheap? Well, both are being sold in the state of California through lien sales. In case you’re not familiar with a lien sale, it’s what happens when someone owes money to someone for a car and can’t or won’t pay up. The possessor of the car (usually a towing company, but sometimes a mechanic) can sell the car to recoup some of their losses, after jumping through a few legal hoops. It’s not a big deal from a buyer’s standpoint; my wife and I bought a Nissan Pathfinder when we were in California from a mechanic who had a lien on it, and it went fine. The only issue is that it does brand the title, but on sub-$2,000 cars, who cares?
It also means that you have absolutely no way of knowing what the car’s history is. All you can do is assess it as-seen and hope for the best. But that’s what we do here every day anyway, so let’s dive in!
Engine/drivetrain: 1.9 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: San Jose, CA
Odometer reading: 150,000 miles (may be a guess)
Runs/drives? No one has any idea
BMW’s Z3 probably wouldn’t have existed without the success of the Mazda Miata. Introduced in 1995, the Z3 followed the same formula: a small lightweight 2-seater, with a four-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a manual gearbox. Of course, being a BMW, the Z3 is quite a bit fancier than your average Miata. Fancy enough for James Bond himself, in fact, though I always thought he should have driven an MGF instead.
This Z3 is about as pure as they come, with the M44 four-cylinder and a five-speed stick. You could get a Z3 with an automatic, if you insisted, but why would you? Later Z3s were available with a more BMW-appropriate inline six, if you wanted more power. But power isn’t really the point of a little lightweight roadster like this; it’s more about the balance and the feel, and if BMW knows anything, it’s how to make a car feel good to drive.
Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how this Z3 feels to drive, because the seller has no keys to it. This isn’t uncommon, if the car was abandoned or repossessed or something, but I would have thought that the tow yard would have keys made. Maybe it’s just not worth it to them. They do seem to want to just dump this car and move on. But it sounds like the paperwork is on the up-and-up, at least.
This poor little BMW isn’t in terrible shape for twelve hundred bucks, though. The interior is half-disassembled, but it’s in reasonable condition. Outside, it’s dusty and faded, but straight. I believe the huge gap in the front is only there because the hood is ajar, but I can’t guarantee it. At least it’s a manual top on these, so there are no worries about a burned-out top motor.
Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 liter overhead cam V8, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Redwood City, CA
Odometer reading: 198,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yep, but might need a clutch
If you’re looking for a dirt-cheap performance car to goof around with, you could do a lot worse than a fourth-generation Mustang. Too old to be valuable, but too new to be considered classics, the 1994-2004 Mustangs are down at the bottom of their depreciation curve, and astonishingly, still worth owning and driving. Even the V6 models have reasonable power, manual transmissions aren’t hard to find, and against all odds, these things are actually reliable and durable.
There’s no better example of the SN95/New Edge Mustang’s durability than this particular 2001 Mustang GT. With nearly 200,000 miles on its odometer, clearly abused, modified in who knows what questionable ways, and sitting in a tow yard for sale on lien papers, it still starts, runs, and drives. The modular 4.6 V8 in this car is also found in a zillion Crown Vics and pickup trucks, and except for some oil burning and fragile plastic intake manifolds, it’s a stout engine. This one puts out a healthy 260 horsepower through a five-speed manual. The seller says the clutch “might need some adjustment,” and this car does have an adjustable cable-operated clutch linkage, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the clutch itself is on the way out.
Really, though, it’s not in awful shape. The seat upholstery is trashed, and it needs a paint job if you want it to look pretty, but it’s an $1800 Mustang with a V8. Who cares if it’s a little banged-up? This isn’t a car you buy to impress anyone. It’s a car you buy to take to the dragstrip, or to an autocross or rallycross. It’s a car you hack up and modify as you want, because it’s already beat-up.
But – I’m going to make the joke before anyone else gets the chance to – whatever you do, don’t take it to a crowded Cars & Coffee.
Lien sales go against every rule you’re supposed to follow when shopping for a used car. You don’t get any of the car’s history, you often can’t test-drive it, and you know that no matter what happens you’re walking out of the DMV with a branded title. The cheap prices may or may not make up for it. If it matters, our gamble on the aforementioned Pathfinder paid off; we moved from California to Oregon in it and got three good years of service out of it after that. Which one of these are you more willing to gamble on?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)