Earlier today, the Petersen Automotive Museum auctioned off one of the cars from its illustrious collection on Cars & Bids. It’s wasn’t some sort of rare European sports car, an art car, or a concept car, but rather something many Americans remember seeing in rental fleet lots. It’s a 2000 Plymouth Neon, but not just any 2000 Plymouth Neon, otherwise it wouldn’t have fetched $10,300.
See, this Plymouth Neon has a mere six miles on the odometer. Not 6,000, not 600, six. It’s a safe bet that this is the nicest second-generation Plymouth Neon in the world, even if it isn’t the zestiest spec.
This is a Neon Highline, which is a particularly fancy way of saying base model. Remember Armstrong power windows? Yes, this thing came so lavishly-equipped that Plymouth listed a full-length console with cupholders, a rear defroster, a left sun visor and a right sun visor on the window sticker. It’s easy to forget just how spartan cars used to be.
It also goes without saying that general build quality leaves something to be desired. Even on this pristine example, some of the interior plastics like the driver’s door card armrest just don’t fit well, as if they were thrown together with a particular lack of concern. Oh, and here’s a design quirk of these Neons that always bugged me — the steering wheel is designed in such a way that it looks to be on upside-down.
Motivation, if you can call it that, comes from a 132-horsepower two-liter four-cylinder engine hitched to a three-speed automatic transmission. Yep, a three-speed in Y2K. Needless to say, this wasn’t a quick car, but it acquitted itself well when the road got twisty. As Car And Driver wrote in a period road test:
With its stiffer body, revised shock valving, and increased suspension travel, the 2000 Neon is even more fun to throw around curves than the previous model. The steering is sharp and accurate. Controllable four-wheel drifts are a flick of the steering wheel away, and gross body motions are tightly controlled. The ride is noticeably firm—this is no Hyundai cushmobile—but it never felt harsh.
Granted, this particular Neon hasn’t travelled far enough for anyone to marvel at its relative handling prowess. Instead, it’s a perfectly preserved time capsule from an age when America built small cars, when economical new transportation was both affordable and desirable. Consider this the blueprint, the standard for every other second-generation Plymouth Neon in existence.
However, a car like this poses a problem: What do you do with it? After all, part of the value of this car is the mileage, and a car like this is far more precious than a classic Porsche 911, or most Ferraris, or even some of the hallowed Mopar muscle cars that fetch the big bucks. That last statement sounds a bit absurd, but let me explain.
Let’s say you wanted to restore a 1970 Dodge Challenger. No problem. There are all sorts of vendors out there to make stuff happen, from bodywork to trim. It’s the same deal with old Porsches and the same deal with many Ferraris. However, vendors making restoration parts for the Plymouth Neon are, erm, slim.
Likewise, if some careless muppet broadsides your muscle car or high-end European sports machine, it sucks to be out of a car, but it’s also reasonably easy to find one in comparable condition, provided you haven’t succumbed to YouTube-itis and bought the ropiest example you could find. With this Neon, it just isn’t possible to find one this nice because, well, they don’t really exist in the wild.
As a result, this Plymouth Neon is truly irreplaceable, which makes it difficult to do anything with. It will likely sit in a collection for years until the owner sells it on, at which point the pool of buyers will be small to say the least. This is the rare sort of car that’s difficult to justify driving and not easy to sell, but to the right person, it’s everything. A true forever car, for better or worse.
To everyone else, it’s something that’s wonderful to see. It’s a true piece of nostalgia, even if that nostalgia harkens back to paranoid times. Sure, two years after these things started running around, the last vestiges of the American Dream collapsed on daytime television, but it was also a time without the internet in everyone’s pockets. They weren’t better times, but they certainly were simpler. This Plymouth Neon is a time machine, it’s just a shame it’ll likely be cached away.
(Photo credits: Cars & Bids)
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