Home » Where We Started And Where We Stopped: 1996 GMC Yukon vs 1996 Chevy Camaro

Where We Started And Where We Stopped: 1996 GMC Yukon vs 1996 Chevy Camaro

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Good morning! I’m on the road again, on the final leg of our big cross-country move. No trailer this time; we’re riding in comfort in my dad’s old Chrysler 300, a sleek V8-powered cruise missile that absolutely gobbles up the miles. But we do have passengers: our three black cats named Mystery, Creepy, and Spooky. Since I’m doing the driving on this run, my wife Erika chose today’s cars – one from our starting point in Portland, and one from where we have stopped for the night.

So yes, one more car from Portland after all. Friday’s choices represented the two cars I most associate with our now-former home: One that represents the scruffy charm of the city as it was, and one that has infested every parking lot like an invasive weed. And naturally, you all picked the wrong one. But that’s all right; I just present ’em. You choose the winners.

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I used to describe Portland traffic with just five words: “There’s always some f–ing Subaru.” Whether it’s merging at 45 MPH, taking six tries to parallel park, or tailgating you when there’s an empty lane next to you, chances are if a car is causing trouble in traffic, it’s powered by the beauty of all-wheel-drive. But like I said, it’s your choice.

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I’m going to reveal a tiny bit of inside baseball about this column: It is as typo-free as it is due to the keen eye of my darling wife, Erika. She proofreads every edition to make certain I haven’t done something stupid. (The factual errors you can still blame on me; fact-checking isn’t in her repertoire.) But she isn’t always enthusiastic about the vehicles I choose, so she offered to pick the cars while we’re making this final cross-country trek. I don’t know if this was intentional or coincidental, but she chose two GM vehicles from the same year, offered for the same price. But that’s about all they have in common. Let’s take a look.

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1996 GMC Yukon – $1,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7-liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Gresham, OR

Odometer reading: 256,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

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Obviously I can’t find fault with this choice. A GMT400-based Yukon? All the best bits of my truck and her truck all rolled into one? Hell yes. Strong, capable, comfortable, and reliable, these trucks are legends for a reason. They’re gas guzzlers, sure, but when it comes to bargain-basement transportation, there are worse sins.

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Halfway through its run, the GMT400 platform got a massive facelift, with softened lines outside and a completely new interior. It’s much more car-like and luxurious than the hard square dash of the earlier versions. It’s still cheap GM plastic, but the seats are comfy, and the plastic stuff is more durable than it feels. At more than a quarter-million miles, this one looks halfway decent, but I’m guessing there are a few things that don’t work. But hey – eighteen hundred bucks.

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It’s powered by the ubiquitous 350 small-block V8, in its final Vortec version, along with the standard-issue 4L60-E automatic. It also has the old-school manually-shifted transfer case, so putting it in 4WD is a nice satisfying lever-pull instead of a boring old button. It runs and drives well, according to the seller, and does great in the snow. (I can vouch for this; both our 4WD GM trucks are beasts when the weather turns bad.)

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Tahoes, Yukons, and Suburbans used to be available with two different tailgate configurations (might still be, actually): the standard hatchback, with separately-openable glass, or barn doors. You don’t see many short-wheelbase Yukons/Tahoes with barn doors. The verdict is out on which one is the more practical option, but personally I like the barn doors. It looks like it would be easier to load, and there are no hold-open struts to wear out.

1996 Chevrolet Camaro – $1,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8-liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Nampa, ID

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Odometer reading: 168,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but might need a little work

I know why she picked this one: It’s purple. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Neither one of us is a huge fan of the fourth-generation “fat” Camaro, but they’re currently the cheap ones, especially the base model like this. This one is at least in the right age range, new enough to have the 3800 V6 instead of the old 3.4, but old enough to have the square headlights. Too bad it’s an automatic, but you can’t have everything.

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The base-model Camaro and Firebird were all about cheap fun and looking cool without spending a lot on gas or insurance. As such, they’re built to a price, and it shows, especially in the interior. But like the Yukon, the plastic feels flimsier than it is. This one looks generally all right, but I bet the dashboard under that toupee is as cracked as desert hardpan.

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Outside, the clearcoat is rapidly fleeing the scene, and the hubcaps are long gone. It looks all right with plain black steelies, I guess. And for the price, you can’t complain, I suppose. It doesn’t look banged-up, and Idaho isn’t known for rusty cars.

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The seller says it runs and drives, but doesn’t elaborate. The air conditioning is broken, but in this price range that’s not uncommon. Strangely, they say the alternator pulley will need replacing “eventually.” I don’t get that; a pulley is pretty simple. It’s either straight, so the belt tracks straight and true on it, or it’s bent and chews up the belt. And the pulley on an alternator is usually the smallest one in the whole setup. How did they damage that one? Unless they mean the tensioner is going bad?

Beat-up old GM cars like these are all over the classifieds. Usually they’re pretty good deals, but you have to be willing to fix a few things, put up with some scruffiness, and have the right attitude – which is “don’t laugh; it’s paid for.” Which one of these old warriors is worth it to you?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
21 days ago

“And naturally, you all picked the wrong one.”
Not all of us, 41% of us including me voted Volvo; still a pretty good chunk
This one I’ll definitely take the Yukon- in decent shape and that’s a great deal right there
I don’t hate that Camaro but it’s really not that great- the front is ugly, don’t like the color and it’s only a V6

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
21 days ago

This badly needs a “both” option. At these prices particularly. Even if both need AC and a transmission in the near future.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
22 days ago

As I have z28 with a LS1 v8 roar, I would take the yukon for the same price.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
22 days ago

That Yukon is CLEAN! That’d be worth more than double that price in Chicago, maybe triple.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
22 days ago

That Yukon is the key.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
22 days ago

Frankly, the Yukon’s a good deal even if it doesn’t run.

Thomas The Tank Engine
Thomas The Tank Engine
22 days ago

I’m British and we don’t have the same relationship with trucks / truck-based vehicles that you guys have, but damn straight I’m picking the Yukon

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
22 days ago

No contest here. Yukon by a landslide today. No mullet needed.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
22 days ago

The Yukon for me. We had a GMC Suburban of the same vintage; it was a gas-guzzling beast but a solid vehicle.

I would love to buy the Camaro, too, just for the fun of tinkering with it. As is often mentioned here, the 3800 engine is durable and easy to juice up with aftermarket mods.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
22 days ago

As a former owner of a 99 Suburban with the barn doors, this is a no brainer. Yukon every day and twice on Sunday.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
22 days ago

Yukon, although it does seem almost too good to be true even with all those miles. That Camaro is toasted probably like the current owners of that car. I probably wouldn’t want to deal with rolling up to their place for a test drive.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
22 days ago

Yukon for me. That Camaro looks rougher and has the wrong transmission. The Yukon can be useful as a 2nd vehicle for the odd time you have to tow or haul something. I wouldn’t want to daily drive it.

Harvey Firebirdman
Harvey Firebirdman
22 days ago

I voted the Yukon. My dad still has my fiances old 94 blazer (last year before they changed to the Tahoe) he dailies now and it still runs and drives decent for having like 250k miles and it is pretty comfy to ride in. And this Yukon looks to be in much better shape then that best to hell Camaro. Also I love F-bodies but the 4th gen Camaro never did it for me same with the 93-97 firebird’s only liked the 98-02 firebird body style for 4th gens.

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
22 days ago

“GM-biance’”. The tendency for GM cars to be boring regardless of how good they are.

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