Home » You Could Get A Real Car For That Much: 1984 Chrysler LeBaron vs 1995 Saturn SL1

You Could Get A Real Car For That Much: 1984 Chrysler LeBaron vs 1995 Saturn SL1

Sbsd 8 28 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Welcome back to another week of bargain-basement automotive silliness! Today is all about choices. Well, I guess every day is all about choices on here, but today’s choice is between two real cars, and a toy car. We’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s find out how Friday’s roundup went down:

Screen Shot 2023 08 27 At 8.51.04 Am

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Interesting! I expected the Lincoln to do better, from the support it seemed to have in the comments. But that Benz is an awfully nice car. Or at least, it could be, if you dragged it out of the ditch and washed the poor thing.

Now, as many of you know, I have a serious interest, bordering on obsession, with radio-controlled model cars. I’ve been involved in the hobby for thirty-seven years now, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. I’m not the only Autopian writer who has been bitten by the RC bug, either: Adrian Clarke, our favorite grouchy goth, races a Tamiya touring car at the club level, and has some other RC models as well, I believe. And Peter Vieira, our social media and art guru, was once the editorial director of RC Car Action magazine. And aside from RC, I think all of us have sizeable model and toy car collections of some kind or other.

I’m contemplating another RC purchase, and it’s a bit on the spendy side: Kyosho’s re-release of their legendary Optima Mid 4WD buggy. I’ll spare you what I could turn into a very lengthy history lesson, but this car was A Big Deal in the RC world in its day, and has become a highly sought-after collector’s item these days. I had an original one about fifteen years ago, stupidly sold it, and have been drooling over the re-release since it came out.

ADVERTISEMENT

One of the more irritating comments that non-RC people make about RC cars is that “You could get a real car for that much!” But can you? And more to the point, would you want to? It seems like a worthy thing to investigate. The Optima Mid kit is $389 without any running gear; figure $500-600 to get it up and going if you’re starting from scratch. I found two kinda-sorta-running “real cars” that need a little work, and could probably be back on the road for not much more than that. Let’s check them out.

1984 Chrysler LeBaron convertible – $450

00b0b Deqzw40ezv3z 0jm0ew 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 2.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: north of Hillsboro, OR

Odometer reading: 46,000 miles

ADVERTISEMENT

Runs/drives? Ran when parked, will start if you pour gas in the carb

This car has been for sale for quite a long time. I’ve almost featured it a couple of times, but resisted, usually because it popped up again for sale right after I had already subjected you all to some other K car. But now, since the theme is $500 cars, this old LeBaron’s moment to shine has come. It’s the first-generation LeBaron convertible, featuring the worst engine – the Mitsubishi-built 2.6 liter four. This boat anchor somehow seemed to work all right in Monteros and Mighty Max trucks, and a turbocharged variant powered the beloved Starion and Chrysler Conquest coupes, but for some reason when it was turned sideways and stuck under the hood of the K cars, it decided to suck.

00m0m 4cey2co15hz 0jm0ew 1200x900

This one ran when it was parked, the seller says, and will still start up if you supply it with fuel directly to the carb. My guess is that the fuel tank and lines are all gunked-up from sitting, and cleaning everything out would help matters a lot. Of course, there are all kinds of other systems in cars that don’t like downtime either, so I would imagine there’s quite a lot of work to do here.

00t0t 7mt2xvusrnzz 0jm0ew 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

Unfortunately, during all that sitting around, the top has been in tatters, and if I’m reading the ad right, the driver’s side window is also broken, leaving all sorts of points of entry for our soggy Oregon weather and all the flora that it brings with it. I can imagine the smell inside this car, and it’s not pleasant.

00b0b Deqzw40ezv3z 0jm0ew 1200x900

Outside, things are much better. It appears to be rust-free, and all the trim is intact. But the paint is shot, and the chrome is peeling off all the plastic parts. You might find some rust in the floors if you pulled up the carpet, depending on how much water actually got in. But that little crystal hood ornament is still present and accounted for, so that’s something.

00202 13tnahai22iz 0jm0ew 1200x900

You might be saying to yourself, “This guy has finally lost his mind! What possible use could I have for a nasty old LeBaron convertible?” I’m glad you asked! Paint it green, apply some woodgrain shelf-paper to the sides, burn the interior (which you might have to do anyway), dress up in a parka, and you’ve got a perfect Planes, Trains, and Automobiles -themed Gambler 500 ride. Just make sure the radio still works.

ADVERTISEMENT

1995 Saturn SL1 – $400

00p0p 3sxyben0d6b 0oo0ww 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 1.9 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Beaverton, OR

Odometer reading: 206,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but overheats, and also needs brakes

ADVERTISEMENT

Not buying it, huh? Figuratively or literally? All right, then, how about the pride of Spring Hill, Tennessee? Here we have a late-run first-generation Saturn SL1 sedan, featuring the single overhead cam version of the “Saturn Power Module” (that’s an engine, to the rest of us) and a five-speed manual transmission. It’s a ways north of 200,000 miles, but still starts and runs. Unfortunately, it can’t go far before overheating, and the seller says it’s going to need brakes soon as well.

00z0z 8rax237ud3p 0ww0oo 1200x900

The tags are only just about to expire, but the thickness of the dust tells me that it has been sitting for at least a while. They’ve also dropped the price from $600 to $400, which tells me they’d take even less. It’s parked at an apartment complex, where the property managers generally don’t like extra cars hanging around, especially ones with expired tags. All of this information, taken together, leads me to ask only one question: Where’s Stephen Gossin when you need him?

00l0l Hqcc3nycsdd 0oo0ww 1200x900

Surprisingly, the inside is not half bad. Everything looks intact, and for whatever reason that Saturn industrial-gray interior cloth wears like iron. The seller notes that the CD player in the aftermarket stereo doesn’t work – it looks like the same Pioneer unit that was in my old Corolla when I got it. That one didn’t work either.

ADVERTISEMENT

01111 An5c8ad83f7 0ww0oo 1200x900

Mostly this car just looks old and tired, and in need of some freshening up. These aren’t great cars to drive, but they’re acceptable, and they do seem to hold up well to neglect and high mileage. The seller suggests that it would be a good car to teach a younger driver how to drive a manual. I’ll add to that notion, and say that the mechanical repairs would be a good learning opportunity as well. Buy this for your kid, and spend a couple of weekends with them whipping it into shape, and then they’re invested in it , and might be less inclined to just trash it.

I’m old enough to remember when functional, if not exciting, $500 cars were easy to find. Those days seem to be gone. I’m also old enough to remember that Tower Hobbies originally sold the Kyosho Optima Mid for $169, which seemed like an unattainable fortune to a high school kid. Nowadays, I can swing the Optima Mid, and I have no need for a $500 car, so I know which way I’m going. But what about you? Which, if either, of these appeals more to you than a 1/10 scale toy?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
76 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
10 months ago

To hell with the “real” cars, I want that Optima. I wanted one of those things so bad back in the day. I’d buy one, but I’ve got 3 Yokomo YZ2 rollers that need to find new owners before I add anything else to the collection.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 months ago

Love PT&As so LeBaron. The beat top keeps the smell out & a more than passing resemblance to John Candy scores extra points at C&C.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
10 months ago

Has anyone suggested making the Saturn radio controlled? Sounds more like a Mercedes-type project.

Bill D
Bill D
10 months ago

IIRC the SOHC Saturns used to crack heads, which may account for the overheating problem.

Isis
Isis
10 months ago

I was wondering where this story was going. Reads like an online recipe site with the RC car stuff. . . Saturn all the way.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago

The LeBaron has 46,000 miles on it because that’s as far as they could go. There’s nothing left. I would pay $200 to have it dragged away.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
10 months ago

My vote goes to the Saturn. It’s a much better car than the LeBaron with a better transmission.

And at best, that Saturn needs a new head gasket. At worst, it needs a new engine. But engines for those are cheap. I see ‘A’ grade engines for those going for as little as US$200 on car-part.com

Last edited 10 months ago by Manwich Sandwich
Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
10 months ago

That SL1 is the best year of the first gen S-Series. 1995 introduced the updated interior which included dual airbags and ditched the motorized seat belts. Plus, the SOHC got multi-port fuel injection in ’95 which bumped power from 85 to 100hp.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
10 months ago

A guy that used to work at the farm while I was in HS had an SL1. Then, as now, I was amazed at how much abuse that little thing took without complaint. I recall on several occasions he’d haul calves in the back seat of it. This Showdown is pretty much a no-brainer, but the interior on that Saturn is still a little too good to consider using it as a calf hauler.

Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
10 months ago

From the looks of it, that Saturn could be a road worthy, cheap, transportation device. That K car is scrap metal. Nothing more.

Citrus
Citrus
10 months ago

Spiritualized once said “lord let it rain on me” but I don’t share that sentiment so Saturn it is.

Allen Lloyd
Allen Lloyd
10 months ago

Buy both and put the good interior and fuel system in the K car and call it a day. Came here to suggest PTA Gambler theme!

Ron Bitter
Ron Bitter
10 months ago

I wonder how many of those Saturns are still on the road, I’m guessing very few.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
10 months ago
Reply to  Ron Bitter

I still see them even in NYC from time to time – but not so often that I don’t do a double take. I don’t see many more of the second generation, but that might be more of a case of me averting my eyes.

Ron Bitter
Ron Bitter
10 months ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

Yeah the second gen was pretty difficult to look at.

Cyko9
Cyko9
10 months ago

The Saturn is a cromulent beater. The Chrysler’s low mileage is eye-catching, but the plastic in K-cars doesn’t age well, so even if it’s not filthy & rusty inside, there’ll be a lot of engine components to replace. I’m just shocked to see 2 cars that might actually run for under $1k.

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
10 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

> might actually run

Even our Lord and savior Stephen Walter Gossin wouldn’t touch that thing.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
10 months ago

With some elbow grease the Saturn will make a perfectly fine transportation appliance for someone who needs it. I drove a 2002 Saturn SL2 with few issues for 16 years, and although I never loved the car it served me well at a time where an inexpensive transportation appliance was exactly what I needed. The interiors on Saturns hold up shockingly well, the car is not entirely without entertainment with the 5-speed, and it would make a good car to teach a young driver about manual transmissions. Parts should be relatively inexpensive or available at the local salvage yard.

Despite coming of age in the 80s and having a lot of misplaced love and nostalgia for malaise-era crap there are too many red flags with the K-car. The camshaft snapped during normal driving in my parent’s K-car, there will be persistent mold/rust/other problems with the interior that has taken too much moisture and abuse, and it’s just not worth it to do all the work needed to bring it up to even occasional driver condition. If you really want one of these, you can actually save considerable money by spending more on an example that isn’t so beat. Unless you’re going to do something silly for an event that has a nominal $500 purchase price, in which case go for it.

SuperNova
SuperNova
10 months ago

How much is a bus pass?

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
10 months ago
Reply to  SuperNova

Probably more than these cars, before insurance.

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
10 months ago

The Saturn seems like a good deal. Sure it’s going to take some extra time and money to get it sorted out, but then you have a running winter beater you don’t have to worry about at all–that’s disposable car money. If the K was of a solid top variety, then maybe, but the best for that thing outside of scrap is going to be LeMons, or Gambler, or something of that nature

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
10 months ago

The Le Baron is a K car and a convertible. Two big nopes for me.

Clark B
Clark B
10 months ago

Judging by the interior of that Saturn, someone cared about it for a significant chunk of those 209k miles. The Lebaron on the other hand, likely has a whole unique ecosystem growing inside it. And who knows what state the electronics are in. The Saturn is a few weekends away from being solid transportation.

Although, if I was in the market for a Gambler car, the Lebaron wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
10 months ago

To be fair to the dust on that Saturn: I’m right near that area and will get that level of dust on my car after a couple of days. Seems to be from the forest fires and tree pollen, and the lack of a breeze that you get in this part of the valley. Still, I’d have cleaned it a bit before taking a photo, even for $400…

TDI_FTW
TDI_FTW
10 months ago

To get that RC buggy if you’re starting from scratch you’re looking at almost a grand. Gimme the Saturn.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
10 months ago

I’m all for beaters but some cars are so derelict or dilapidated they aren’t beaters anymore, they’re just scrap. It’s the RC for me. On that note I would love to see more RC content.

Millermatic
Millermatic
10 months ago

I voted for the Optima Mid. I’ve got the Optima re-release… and it’s absolutely awesome. Beautiful, too. Built it with my kids… because I had so much fun with my Tamiya RC cars when I was their age.

I confess… I wasn’t aware of the Mid. Optima, Turbo Optima and Javelin, yes… but not the Mid (like I said… I had Tamiyas). I might have to get another RC car…

FYI… the Mini-Z Optima is great, too…

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
10 months ago
Reply to  Millermatic

All of the Mini-Z’s are awesome. I’ve got like 4 of them, and they’re some of my favorite RC cars, especially the Mini-Z 4Runner.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
10 months ago

I’m a sucker for a convertible. Rip the remains of the top off, put a fuel cell in the trunk and plumb in an electric fuel pump and send it!

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
10 months ago

Saturn for sure. Already a fair price, but throw in the fact they say they have receipts since the original owner, that’s a big positive too.

76
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x