It’s time for another Shitbox Showdown! We’ve managed to make it this far this week without a single automatic transmission, so we’ll keep that up today with a couple of five-speeds from eastern Colorado. But before we do that, let’s see what you made of our hatchbacks from yesterday:
Toyota beats Nissan? Two doors beats four? Two hundred bucks price difference? I’m not sure it matters. These cars are pretty much interchangeable. Either one would do just fine for general car stuff.
As we found out yesterday from Thomas, stickshifts are back! Of course, we all know they never went anywhere, and to prove it, we’ve got a couple of unusual cars to check out that are both good old-fashioned three-pedal manuals, or as they were once called, standards. As in, what you got if you didn’t choose the automatic option. Let’s check them out.
1991 Mercury Capri – $3,850
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Windsor, CO
Odometer reading: 160,000 miles
This car gets no respect at all. We’re fans of it around here; I even defended in our rebuttal to Motor Trend’s “Worst Cars Of The ’90s” list. Really, the worst charge that can be leveled against it is that it’s not a Miata, and you can say that about any non-Miata. So let’s stop worrying about what it isn’t, and consider it for what it is: a little convertible based on a decent proven economy car platform.
The Capri isn’t really a Mercury; it’s mostly Mazda under the skin, derived from the Mazda 323 platform, and built in Australia. It’s powered by a 1.6 liter Mazda B6 twin-cam engine, the same basic engine as in the early Miata, only turned sideways and driving the front wheels. The Capri is a four-seater on paper, but you wouldn’t want to actually make a person sit in back. I bet dogs love it, though.
This Capri runs and drives great, but it does appear to have a bit of a rust problem. This is the danger of driving a car like this year-round in snow country, I suppose. The seller seems to think it’s solid enough to put some recent work into, and trusts it enough for road trips. Think of the rust as an excuse to learn to weld.
The soft top is in perfect shape, but it also includes the removable hard top, and a nifty rolling cart to store it on. Just like those fancy folks with the Mercedes SLs, but for a fraction of the cost! And yeah, it’s not as small a fraction as you might like, but have you seen what early Miatas are going for these days?
1995 Dodge Dakota Sport – $2,250
Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Odometer reading: 130,000 miles
Runs/drives? I think so; might need an ignition switch? Ad isn’t clear
Small truck too small for you? Big truck too big? Has Dodge got the answer for you! The Dodge Dakota was marketed as a “mid-sized” truck, something no one else was selling at the time. In long bed configuration, it could hold a 4×8 sheet of plywood in the bed (a standard measure of truck usefuless back when they were used as, you know, trucks), but its overall dimensions were a lot smaller than standard full-size trucks so it was easier to manage.
Most Dakotas were powered by a 3.9 liter V6 or a 5.2 liter V8, but the base engine was Chrysler’s K-car engine, here displacing 2.5 liters. It doesn’t seem like much engine for a truck, but in a standard-cab short-bed truck like this it’s fine. The little four-cylinder takes up a hilariously small portion of the available space under the Dakota’s big hood; see that brown spot in the photo above next to the engine? That’s the pavement below the truck. That’s how much extra room there is in there.
Being a base model, this Dakota has not only the four, but also a manual, and that most wonderful of all base-model truck equipment: a bench seat. It’s all in very nice shape, except for a dent in the rear bumper; apparently someone bumped into it during a recent snowstorm. It also needs something called an “ignition actuator pin.” If I remember right, this is the doodad that connects the ignition lock cylinder to the actual ignition switch, buried inside the steering column. The seller isn’t clear whether or not you can actually start the thing in its current condition.
It also comes with a fiberglass tonneau cover, handy for keeping smaller cargo secure and dry, but a pain if you need to move big stuff.
Comparing these two is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but if you’re shopping for cheap wheels, sometimes the body style doesn’t matter much. Either of these could be a good economical runabout; it just depends what style you prefer.
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
Those little FWD Capris were hot garbage and this one is overpriced.
The Dakota, on the other hand, could be 5.9 Magnum swapped in a couple of weekends to make that “Sport” decal mean something.
Man, I cannot imagine how slow that Dakota must be with the 2.5. I owned two manual RWD Dakotas with the 3.9, an engine that was excellent at consuming large quantities of fuel while producing very little power along the way. My first Dakota was my first car ever. I learned to drive stick on that beast. I drove a manual V8 4×4 and considered trading in my second Dakota for the V8, but it wasn’t actually that much faster than the V6.
Out of all of the cars I’ve owned, my Dakotas were the most reliable. Both of mine were somehow rust free even though they were PA cars. They were very useful trucks and extremely easy to work on. They were great for learning to wrench on my own.
My first one had a bench seat and was surprisingly comfortable for my back back. My second one had the sport pack like this one does, but with bucket seats. I loved the blacked out bumpers and trim but the bucket seats didn’t go back far enough for me, and I’m only 5’10”, so the bench is definitely the winner.
How fun would it be to stick a 2.5 turbo in this thing?
I’d go Dakota 10/10 times in this comparison, if only because I always thought about slapping a turbo to an original Dakota with the K-Car 2.5 to try and have some fun with.
If I wanted one just to drive as a daily, I’d try and find the 1997-2002 Dakota’s (it was dropped after 2002) that came with the AMC I4 instead.
Waded in expecting to vote for the quirky Capri, but that honest little truck reeled me in. That interior shot is missing only a phone book & couch cushion to match the scene where I taught my daughter to use a clutch. Bench seat and lack of rust wins today.
Mazda adjacent is my choice, and the dog lying in the sun did sway me just a little, but I was leaning that way already,,, the Dakota is OK, I just prefer the breeze.
My father had a four cylinder Dakota Sport just like that one when I was in high school, though his was blue and have a bed that was already rusted through despite being less than a decade old. It was not what you would call glamorous or fast by any means, but it got decent enough fuel economy and was quite reliable. Honestly, it was the truck that most truck owners really needed.
If the Dodge was a 4X4, I’d go that way. As they’re both 4X2 the Mercury wins.
Here in the land of snow, you don’t see too many 4X2 pickups.
I’d say the same thing, but I’ve been seeing many more then I’m used to.
Even saw a new 2WD Lamarie Longhorn 1500 with the mild-hybrid 5.7 come in on a very snowy day for an oil change once. Dude just moved up here.
It was very perplexing!
This comes down to whether you’re in the mood for a wedge or a brick. Today, I’m in the wedge camp.
Dakota for me.. nice clean truck with one small fix and one moderate one (the ignition).
love the Capri in concept – but that rust didn’t come from Colorado, there’s something bad going on underneath there. CO doesn’t use salt and none of my 20+ year old cars have developed any significant rust..
I agree that Capri is likely a transplant from somewhere else. But it isn’t entirely true we don’t use salt here, since CDOT uses a sand/salt mixture in some instances. And while not as damaging as salt, the mag chloride liquid de-icer can affect paint finishes if not washed off as soon as possible.
I’d have to give the Carpri an extra thorough inspection – as long as that rust is confined to the quarter panels and fenders I might be very tempted because it would be much more fun to drive.
But logically, for $1400 less, the Dakota seems the wiser choice and way more useful as an extra workhorse to pull duty on weekend trips to Home Depot, Lowes, or your landscape supply store of choice.
I drove a V6 extended cab Dakota in college in the 90s. It was a solid truck that survived years with little maintenance. They don’t have much personality and aren’t particularly attractive or comfortable, but for a $2200 this is a no-brainer for dump runs, etc.
I still regret passing up the last nice manual Dakota I had a chance to buy. A ’96 4×4 extended cab with the V8 and a stick. SLT if I remember correctly. Clean, zero rust, just under 100k miles, and they wanted around 8k for it (in 2004). Two-tone black and silver. Beautiful. I honestly would have probably kept it til now. This, on the other hand, I would not buy. In 95, the V8 was rated at more than twice the horsepower of the 2.5. I’ve driven first-gen dakotas with magnum V8s and V6s, the older V8s and carbed V6s, and I’ve driven both turbo and non-turbo 2.5s in various K-based cars and one dakota spec’d just like this one (though a much cooler green rather than white). An NA 2.5 with a stick will probably get out of it’s own way when that truck is empty, but that’s about it. The V6 would be ok, but I would only buy (or swap in) a V8. In theory, you might be able to turbo this, but if I recall correctly (I looked into doing it in a K-variant once), the pistons and head are different (at least I remember it having a different compression ratio than the turbo), and it’s a non-trivial conversion. But that was twenty-some years ago, so I may not remember correctly.
And, as others have said, too much rust on the Capri. So, none of the above?
I do’t know how one can ignore the rust and the significant additional money involved with the Capri. Meanwhile the Dakota is not super sexy, but it is practical and in good shape. It shouldn’t be too expensive to get all the needed stuff fixed up.
Mercury Capri for me. It looks nicer, will drive way better and has a much higher novelty factor than a poverty-spec pickup truck.