Home » Toyota Camry Versus Chevy S-10: The Search For A Good Cheap Beater In The Twin Cities

Toyota Camry Versus Chevy S-10: The Search For A Good Cheap Beater In The Twin Cities

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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re off to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, home to Paisley Park, the Mall of America, a giant sculpture of a spoon with a cherry on it, and snow. Lots and lots of snow.

But before we head north, let’s see how our California rides did:

Yeah. That would be my choice, too. That V6-powered petri dish of a Chrysler minivan is the stuff of nightmares. The five-speed Ford Focus takes the cake. Now you just need to get a ride out to pick it up from Missy–I mean, Mom.

[Editor’s Note: Luckily Mark provided me with a cheat-sheet for today’s pop-culture references. I’d have gotten the “Tru-Coat” one, but that’s all. From Mark:

Oh, and “Missy-I mean, Mom” is a joke from the Bill & Ted movies, Tru-Coat is a Fargo reference, Ole and Lena jokes are a time-honored Minnesota tradition, and the Replacements were a Minneapolis hard rock band in the ’80s whose live shows were famous for being rowdy and out-of-control. Hope this helps.


And now…

Ole and Lena went to the county fair, and saw a sign that said “AIRPLANE RIDES $10.” Ole said, “Lena, let’s go take a ride on the airplane.” 

But Lena replied, “Oh Ole, don’t go throwin’ yer money around like that. Ten dollars is ten dollars.” 

The pilot overheard this and told them, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take you up for the ride, and if neither of you makes a single sound or says a single word, when we land, I won’t charge ya.” 

They agreed, and took the ride. The pilot did loops, barrel rolls, everything he could think of to get them to shout or scream, and… nothing. 

“Boy, I gotta hand it to ya,” the pilot said after they landed. “I’ve never had anyone be able to keep quiet before.” 

Ole replied, “Well, I almost said somethin’ when Lena fell out, but she’s right; ten dollars is ten dollars.”

Which is to say, Minnesotans are a thrifty bunch. They tend to use things up all the way down to the nub to keep from having to spend money. This makes cheap used cars that don’t already have one foot in the junkyard hard to find. But I did manage to find a couple of likely-looking inexpensive clunkers that aren’t even all that rusty. (I mean, that Tru-Coat™ can only do so much).

And here they are.

1996 Toyota Camry – $999

Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Osseo, MN

Odometer reading: 201,000 miles

Runs/drives? You betcha

Imagine a car so durable, so trouble-free, that The Onion once made fun of it for being too good. A car so legendarily dull that in some parts of the country it is actually used as a sleep aid. A car available in five different shades of tan/taupe/beige that all somehow manage to clash with each other. A car that Just. Won’t. Die. That car is this car, the XV10 Toyota Camry.

This particular Camry has clearly not led an easy life. From the mismatched driver’s door to the hail damage to the obviously-not-the-right-size rear tires, it bears the scars of a life used casually and cared for haphazardly, as so many Camrys do. Somehow, miraculously, it has managed to avoid acquiring the “Camry Dent,” but I think the bashed-in left rear door and missing fuel door (why are they always missing on these?) make up for it.

It also shows a healthy dose of “Minnesota weight reduction” around the rear wheel arches, but for 26 winters in, it’s not terrible. Inside, it actually looks kinda nice, and it’s fancy as Camrys go, with leather seats and fake wood on the dash. Heck, it’s practically a Lexus. Or at least as close as Ole and Lena are likely to get.

The seller says it has an oil leak, but doesn’t specify where. If it’s just that seeping valve cover gasket shown in the photos, that’s nothing. Twenty bucks, a ten-millimeter socket, and an hour, and you’re leak free. If you can get past the cosmetic deficiencies, this could be a decent cheap winter car for a few years. I mean, two hundred thousand miles? That’s just about broken-in.

1994 Chevrolet S-10 – $900

Engine/drivetrain: 4.3 liter V6, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Odometer reading: 238,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yah sure

The second-generation Chevy S-10 is better than people give it credit for. The blobby styling is arguably a step back from its square-jawed predecessor, especially once it gets some dings and dents, and the interior plastics lasted about a week, but mechanically these little pickups are stout. They were cheap, and considered somewhat disposable, but refused to be disposed of. It’s not uncommon to see them looking like absolute hell but running fine, which personally I’d take over the other way around, especially in a truck.

This one has some questionable modifications – the lowered suspension, the stereo that you know is connected to some gigantic carpet-covered subwoofer box behind the seat, those wheels – but the bones are good. GM’s three-fourths-of-a-350 4.3 liter V6 is a good engine, and the NV3500 transmission is rock-solid, though the shifter can get pretty sloppy after a while.

The photo of the dash is encouraging, and a good thing for the seller to include: warming up, idling at 800 RPM, no warning lights, everything in the green. Whatever indignities have been forced upon this S-10 cosmetically, it is, by all appearances, a good-running little truck. It’s likely to be as raucous and noisy inside that little cab as a Replacements show at First Avenue, but you don’t buy a truck like this for luxury.

And yeah, it’s rusty. If I had to guess, those new front fenders are there because the originals were flapping in the breeze at the bottom. It would be worth taking a close look at the frame to make sure the rust is confined to the body, but the telltale gap between the bed and the cab is nice and even still; that is a good sign.

There you have it – two rusty beaters from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Which slice of Minnesota Not-So-Nice will it be?


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74 Responses

  1. “Which is to say, Minnesotans are a thrifty bunch.”
    So thrifty, residents of Northfield, Minnesota chased out Jesse James and his gang when they tried to rob the town bank.

  2. I’m enjoying the new site immensely, but SBSD is getting a little boring due to the consistency of the decrepitude and the types of cars that bottom out in the 2K range during these crazy times. Not that there haven’t been a few cool ones, but maybe raise the prices a little? I feel like under 5K is the new Shitbox and that there are some really interesting cars out there in that range.

    Or, might I propose a second contest called I Know What I Have Showdown. Here, the most hubristic CL ads for insanely priced, non running, birdshit covered Porsche 944’s, VW vans, Nissan 240SX’s, “rare” 90’s mustangs, and the like can compete for the most ludicrous, aspirational, BaT-inspired prices. Bold font lists with the retail prices for purple anodized blow-off valves, clear tail lights, the contents of boxes full of ready-to-install but never-got-around-to-it parts score points here, as do mentions of recent auctions of said model on BaT or Mangus Walker videos predicting their future classic status. Just a thought, but it might be fun for a spell.

    1. All good suggestions. I’m still finding my feet with this, and this week I was trying to stick to a theme – the absolute cheapest running/driving gotta-get-to-work cars I could find. I tried to favor things that were at least fun to write about, but yeah, browsing Craigslist at this price level does get a little monotonous.

      I do want to mix it up some. This week everything runs and drives; next week NOTHING will, and we’ll be looking at “Just needs a…” and “Worth $xxxx once it’s fixed up”.

    2. I like SBSD regardless, but I do like your suggestion in the second paragraph. Nothing like some good ‘ol fashioned hubris to wake up to.

      1. EDITED TO ADD: Along the lines of what you suggested, something to the effect of “Rare ≠ Valuable.” I love when these poor bastards belt out useless specs like “1 of 9,486 in Shitbox Gray in 1988” for their 6th Gen Pontiac LeMans.

  3. If the Camry is ok , rust-oxide-wise, I’d choose it hands down. My mom had one of this vintage. Mom knows nuttin about cars. She changed the radiator coolant at 250,000 miles when I casually asked her if she had ever done so. What came out was a milkshake sludge like material. She sold it at 310,000 miles. Those damned things are indestructible

  4. “the Replacements were a Minneapolis hard rock band”

    Someone was almost ‘Mats drunk if they can make that claim with a straight face!

  5. I had a 1990 S-15 with the 4.3 V6 and 4WD as a first vehicle. The 4.3 simply guzzled fuel, and that was back when it was $0.65/L where I grew up. I can’t imagine having to pay nearly three times that (we’re at ~$1.75/L right now) to keep one of those fed these days, but when you’re buying a piece of crap because you have no money for something better the worst thing possible is to have to pay a small fortune to keep it running. The Camry wins all day, every day; keep an eye on the junk yards for a door that’s in a closer colour to the rest of the body, and let someone else feed that torquey, thirsty proto-Vortec beast.

  6. Easy vote for the Camry. My parents and sister each have one, and all show the car can go the distance (285k for mom, 180k for dad, and 215k for sister). Assuming an eye is kept on the rot, the car will make it another 100k+ miles relatively trouble-free.

  7. Get the S-10. In the unlikely event that it lives long enough to see another winter, you’ll have a blast doing donuts in the snow. Some of the donuts could even be intentional!

  8. Camry all the way. I had that s10 with the 4.3 and an auto. Even with weight in the back, I’d lose traction if the roads were even slightly wet. Crazy fast but damn, it could get away from you fast. And that’s down here away from snow. That camry may be boring but it won’t care about weather. Or anything really. You also don’t have to worry about whatever you are carrying sliding around the bed. Mine had all of 2 inches of space behind the seats.

  9. Another MN lifer here and a yota one to boot. …don’t ya know. (haha nobody actually talks like that, but its still amusing)

    Camry all the way! If i can’t have awd then its fwd. That S10 is gonna leave you in the ditch with frozen grapes late at night heading out of MPLS and into the sticks with a foot of snow. no brainer there.

  10. As a daily beater, the toyota would probably last you another 100,000+. But the s-10 would be a good project car, as long as the title is clean you can basically get replacement/upgrade parts for every bit of the vehicle. I’m at a point in my life where I’m finally financially stable, so naturally I’m itching for a project, s-10 for me.

  11. The third gen Camry is the best car ever made :o)

    Easy to work on I4, and even though it has a timing belt, it’s non-interference.

    I’d like the S10 better if it had the I4 instead of the V6, though the V6 might be good for an LS swap

  12. While I appreciate the (deserved) votes/comments for the Camry, my first truck was a ’95 S-10, 4.3, 5MT, 4WD in silver. And as my next two trucks were a ’19 ZR2 and a ’20 ZR2 Bison Duramax- my heart leads me to voting for the S-10 even though I doubt I will ever own another GM product.

  13. Coming from some one that has a RWD 88 F350, with open diff, on the east coast of Canada.. don’t do the rwd truck.

    Its embarrassing getting stuck on seemingly nothing.

    Don’t talk to me about weight in the bed. I’ve had two round bails (over 1000lb) in the bed and ice will still get you.

  14. As a resident of the twin cities, and a native Minnesotan (35 years), I can, without question answer this question properly. It’s the Camry, and it’s not even close. GM trucks have had problems handling the salt since forever. Even the most recent generations of Silverado have rotten cab corners and blown out beds.
    Also, when it’s 30 below and you go to crank the key, be honest, do you trust a Toyota or a Chevy more to actually start?
    Nevermind the uselessness of 2wd trucks on the snow and ice. Yes, it can be done, but you’re going to have to put in twice the effort. And what’s the upside of the truck? A tiny bed that can’t carry that much more than the Camry? Pass.

    Again, It’s not even close.

    I guarantee you no one that actually lives in this hell hole (it’s 40 and raining AGAIN today) would choose the truck.

  15. When I bought my ’94 Hilux (the only vehicle I ever bought new), I also looked at both Rangers and S10s. Not only did I like pretty much everything better in the Toyota, the price couldn’t be beat. I bought it in October 1994, and the new ’95 Tacomas were due to arrive at the end of the week, and the dealership was blowing out the last of the 4-cylinder 2WD base-model ’94s for a mind-boggling $7,499. A similarly equipped Ranger was eleven grand. Anyway, though I kinda liked the nifty lines of the S10, I didn’t really give it a second thought. And now, 28 years later, I still see plenty of mid-90s Hiluxes and Rangers on the road, but not so many of that vintage S10. I don’t know anyone who liked them. So I was kinda prepared to vote for the Camry.

    But damn. I do respect that 4.3 V6, one of the most leakproof engines in history. A buddy of mine has driven a couple of Astros to the moon and back with that engine. Plus a five-speed? For under a grand? Normally my SoCal self is allergic to rust, but for that price and that drivetrain, I’ll take it. The entire bed and cab could blow away in a shower of rust flakes and I’d still just tool down the road on a bare frame, sitting on a milk crate. Maybe with a hat and scarf.

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