Thursday, July 02, 2009

Car Question

Finding myself in the untenable position of owning two small cars, one not presently running or roadworthy and the other in need of some serious work,* I am trying to decide how to proceed.

I don't like having to make car payments. Owning a shiny new car is simply not worth the bother and cost to me.

I do like small, quirky cars. I like older cars.

My non-roadworthy car is a '74 MGB. When it was garaged, it needed a new brake master cylinder, possibly some fuel system work, the seats were overdue for rebuilding, one (wire) wheel needed replacement and it had a mild case of sill rot. That can only have become worse in the intervening years (I know the top has perished). It'll take time and money to get it back on the road -- though last I knew, there was a good MG restoration shop here in Indianapolis.

So here's the question: what would you do? I could drop off the 'B and throw money at it 'til it was a car again. I've driven this one and its predecessor year 'round in the past and I like them. On the other hand, it'll take no small amount of cash and probably a lot of time before my MGB is in even useable shape.

I've been looking at MGB-GTs on auction sites. Really like them and some look good, the problem being that rust issues endemic to the breed mean nice-looking MGs can be Bondoed up in a trice...and will revert to being junkyard fodder within months of purchase. The only way to tell is to go lay hands on 'em, a project that quickly founders on lack of time and airfare.

Another option would be a buy a small truck and sell the Hyundai. That'd give me something useful for transportation and I could still play at sportscar ownership if I wanted to. (I've owned pickup trucks before -- even a Ford F150, way back when).

Or I could buy something else. But what else? Most of what I see on the roads now is either too expensive or I dislike it. The Hyundai Accents I've owned -- three! -- were all bought with the thought that they were "disposable cars," commuter vehicles cheap enough to buy for cash.

Any advice?
* All three of the Hyundai Accents I have owned have had very short-lived rear brakes, so much so that I suspect serious design flaws.


Anonymous said...

I'd recommend a Mazda3 without hesitation. If it'll survive winter here, I'm sure it'll be ok there.


Ken said...

Find a cherry or nearly cherry Benz 190D or 300D turbo diesel.

Turk Turon said...

Ten-year-old Toyota Corolla. The VW Bug of the 21st Century. Pay $2000-$4000 cash. At the very least you can use it to ferry parts for your MG. And it has a trunk.

Carteach said...

I too am vehicle shopping.

It may sound strange... but I would love to find a decade old Volvo 240 or 740, preferably a wagon, preferably non-turbo. Bullet proof bricks that are reliable and relatively safe. NOT sporty, but who cares?

Give them a thought... there is a cult following on the 240 (g).

Turk Turon said...

I second the Volvo. I owned a wonderful 240GL wagon. Totalled by the ex with both kids inside: no injuries. I also owned a 760 Turbo Intercooler wagon. Very powerful, but expensive to maintain.

Ed Rasimus said...

For sports car, I'd vote for the Mazda Miata--new, reliable, small, economical, very sporty.

I can't share your affection for MG, B or any other alphabet piece. British cars are notorious until you get to James Bond level stuff.

You don't indicate whether your sporty wish is speed, twisties, wind-in-the-face, kidney-rattler or simply tiny car syndrome.

og said...

The Hyundai rear brakes are not flawed, they're just not desigmned for American driving styles. if the Hyundai is serviceable the brakes are simple to repair/replace.

Everything on the MG is user serviceable. The master cylinder simple to change, (and you must do so often) the tin work being the major trouble. If you have a garage in which to 'restore' it, I suggest keeping it, and putting it together for short non mission critical trips. Plus, you'll bleed a great deal putting it together, which is a fun thing.

As for trucks, which would be an excellent purchase if you're going to do the restore, a nice little Ford Ranger would be a good fit. THey're all over the place for 2k. The brakes and most recurring repair items are butt-simple to DIY, and if you buy the parts at Autozone, you only buy once (autozone lifetime warrants almost everything they sell) A little four cylinder makes it very much not a race car, and good on gas, but don't tow anything with it. I bet Carteach could help you find something appropriate.

On the third hand, I LOVE my explorer, and though it costs me a little blood sweat and tears once in a while, it's been faithful to me for 341,000 miles. And they are GIVING used explorers away now.

Joanna said...

I drive an '05 Focus ZX3 -- little red hatchback coupe. It averages 31 mpg highway and it almost never needs servicing unless I run it into something. It's not very user serviceable, though, at least for someone with my resources. Wicked lot of space if you fold down the back seats, though.

og said...

A Diesel Jetta converted to run on biodiesel so the exhaust smells like french fries has always been a fantasy of mine.

Laura said...

i second the Corolla suggestion. i've gone through two and miss them both.

the first was a '95 - had a generational issue with eating/burning a little oil. this is somewhat normal for that generation. it was a tank, and held up amazingly well for all i put it through. i learned on this car, and if i hadn't killed it by running it into the back of a Subaru, it would still be tanking along...and i'd probably still be driving it.

the second was a 2001, and was dead reliable. i sold it only because i wanted a fun car, and couldn't afford insurance on both. i'm still considering buying another 01/02 when my toy is paid off.

Blackwing1 said...

Sports car: I can second Ed on a Miata. My wife's fun car is a 1997 version, the last ones with the flip-up headlights. Steers through corners like it's on rails, but with utter Japanese-car reliability. As fun to drive as an MG, and you can buy a hard-top for 'em if you decide to drive it year-round.

Practial-mobile: How about a used Subaru Impreza (4-door/hatchback)? With a 5-speed they're still fun to drive, you can put the back seats down and put a pile o' stuff in 'em, get 35 MPG, and the AWD system can't be beat when it rains/ices/snows.

Blackwing1 said...

Sorry, that was supposed to be "practical-mobile".

And I own a Ford I can't endorse that as a concept. Mine's been a POS since I bought it.

danno said...

I'll 3rd the Miata nomination. It's the MG B done right. Cheap, Drives like a go cart, a great air condioner, and 30MPG.

Assrot said...

Sell them both for what you can get and try one of these.

World's Smallest Car

We had one similar to this here at the university back in the early 1990s. It ran great. The only issue is it does not have a heating nor an airconditioning unit.

You might have to put a small pot belly stove in there during them Indiana winters.


Crucis said...

Sell both your current cars and use the money to buy a "near" new (2-3 years old) vehicle that would meet your needs. I expect you could get quite a few coins selling the MGB as-is on e-Bay or some similar site. Add, buyer-picks up.

Unless you have specific plans for the MGB, it's just taking up space. Get rid of it.

DBA Dude said...

I would agree with the 2nd hand Subaru, I have had my Legacy for 15 years and the only thing to fail on it has been the alternator (after 105,000 miles).

If you need load space buy an estate - and the big plus is that they are all made in Japan.

Comrade Misfit said...

Honda anything.

The late `90s Toyota small pickups have some serious frame rot issues. Toyota is very quietly buying them back at 150% of the Blue Book retail price of pristine condition.

Mad Saint Jack said...

The P 50 on Top Gear.

Blackwing said...


My friend who lives north of Bemidji (that's up near the Canadian border) just gave her "old" Subaru to her brother with 230,000 miles. I drove it down to the Cities for her; it's not like new, but nothing's wrong with it.

She replaced it with a "new" Subaru...that one's only got 120,000 miles on it. Those things seem to last forever, and the only problem with buying 'em used is that they seem to retain their resale value for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Subaru? Well, I think I can get you a deal on one fresh off the line up here.


The best car advice, as I am certain we can all agree, is to buy a Toyota Tacoma TRD and give it to Shootin' Buddy.

Shootin' Buddy, soon to replace his own deer magnet

Jeffro said...

I'll chime in with the chorus on a Miata. Used Miatas are inexpensive and usually not ridden hard and put away wet. If you want a small, quirky but reliable convertible, that's the way to go.

Beyond that, it just depends on what you want. The Miata would suck on a trip to the lumber yard. Small, reliable trucks (didn't know the info about the little 'Yota frame rails) without all the bells and whistles can be picked up economically. "Rollers" have a well deserved rep for lasting forever reliably.

Crucis is correct - sell the MG on eBay. It's the best way to reach the market for such a niche vehicle.

Will you name this replacement after The Hot Needle of Inquiry as well?

boomvark said...

Reading through your post, the first thing I thought was 'Miata'. It's good to know that if I'm out to lunch at least a few other folks are there with me. ;)

Jim said...

No worries. A person who begins with the premise that grownups do not borrow money for cars can make no serious mistake.

I suggest listening carefully to Og about the Ranger (or S10 or whatever). A starship dude is a truck dude.

Travis McGee understood cars.

Stranger said...

Six to ten year old JA 2WD compact PU that still runs well. I'm a little too bulky to fit comfortably in one but the YF has had -

a 12 YO Datsun, put 100k mi on it, paid $2,200

a 10 YO Nissan, 110k mi, $2,200

a 10 YO Toyota, 95k mi, sold for what she paid for it.

Now has a 2001 Frontier, $3500

But La Senora is a shopper. And a driver.


OldTexan said...

I have had the pleasure of owning a handful of old, fun, Brit sports cars. When they run they are a lot of fun but when they start to fall apart, every time you drive it is a new adventure in self inflicted pain.

So, buy yourself a nice little Jap sports car, pour about a pint of oil on your driveway every week, put a little gasoline on a rag and stick it under one of the seats and from time to time just close your eyes and pull one of the wires loose under the dash, then spend an hour or two trying to find where to reconnect it.

That way you will feel as if you still have a Brit car but you will have a better chance of getting from point A to point B every time you start your car.

I gave up on the sporty stuff and now I drive a Ford F-150 and I can haul crap home for my do-it-yourself projects that never seem to end.

Frank W. James said...

I would join the chorus that recommends selling both cars. Here's the deal with 'restoring' old cars. You have two choices: a. Bring lots of money because it is worse than remodeling an old house, or b. be prepared for a journey that never ends. I'm sure you have some sort of sentimental attachment to the MGB, but sentiment and logical use of your resources are seldom in sync, if you know what I mean.

I think many of the previous posts have some very good suggestions, but one thing I would caution AGAINST is automotive restoration for anyone with less than unlimited budget.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Unknown said...

Check out the Pontiac Vibe. Same car as a Toyota Matrix, but cheaper since its a Pontiac. With GM's recent issues, there are a lot of used Vibes parked on car lots around Indy right now.

Ed Skinner said...

Buy US, and not Government Motors. The Ford truck sounds like a hit!

Roberta X said...

I've wanted a Miata since forever. They do not have the same soul as an MGB -- and I will continue to point out that an MG kept in good shape is a pretty dependable car, too many people treat 'em like Fords -- but they are all manner of fun. Alas, I've yet to find one at a price I was willing to pay.

My "small car thing" is about maneuverability and acceleration rather than speed. Plus they're just kewler.

...It hurts me to sell off the ol' B. It makes sense to do so, though.

Volvo wagon is tempting. A "classic" pickup truck is a little tempting, though you'd think driving my Dad's '51 IH panel truck with "granny low" first gear would have cured me of it. And I drove a Corolla for many years -- hail beat it up pretty badly and it needed serious shop time. It started at over 100K on the clock when I bought it and I added a lot more miles. (I owned a '70 Toyota CoroNa once, too, nicest car I'd owned up 'til then and a foretaste of the MGBs, since it had nearly the same engine, transmission and wheelbase. And some of the same problems.)

Thanks for all the advice, keep those cards & letters comin'! I don't have enough general car knowledge to know what all to look for -- the only ones I know much about are the models I have already owned.

og said...

There IS another option. it involves a car payment, but it might just be worth your while.

The Subaru WRX.

New, they're a bit pricey by "economy car" standards, but a gently used one can be had for a very reasonable price.

And they are bullets. Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear said "It looks like a buttock", and I can't disagree. But it handles like it's on rails, and it has a 300 plus horsepower engine in a car that weighs 11 pounds. One of my co workers bought one, the STI model, that's rally ready, with brembo brakes and NO AMENITIES (like radio, A/C or HEAT) right from the factory. It's not necesary to be that austere, but if you found one and drove it, and you could get past the gag reflex, you'd have more fun driving it than you can imagine.

Simple to work on. A handful of tools will get you through all normal maintenance (brakes, tuneup, oil change) and a $90 interface will allow you to plug your teeny new computer into it's brain and use/view it's self diagnostic functions. Spend two hours a week inspecting it and maintaining it, and you can get at least a quarter million miles out of it easy, all of which will be G force twisting, acclerometer breaking fun. In a car ugly enough to be a relative of Og.

Tam said...

Manual-transmission 6-cylinder E36's are practically unkillable and most of them are nearing the bottom of their depreciation curves. Extremely rust resistant, and an understressed motor (you can actually use fifth gear around town) and they're Gas/Tires/Oil reliable for 200k or more.

The Zed Drei is based on that platform, and this brake thing was the first time I've had to put it in the shop for repairs since I bought it almost eight years ago.

Roberta X said...

...One other criterion which I am pondering: straight-up stupid ignition. I hate cars than can beat you at checkers; it is always bespoke electronics and once that black box goes unobtanium, your car's junk.

My present 'B actually fails that test; it had a semi-custom vacuum advance and matching carburettor* metering valve and when the distributor system failed one fine day, that particular set of components was no longer available. Options were get the carbs redone to live happy with the bone-stock ignition parts Moss Motors had, or stuff in an electronic ignition at a quarter the price. Cheap won. --And a seriously bad set of sunspots could kill that car now.
* Don't look at me that way! The SUs get all miffed if you don't spell their title properly.

Turk Turon said...

I think what you'd really like is a Morgan. Side curtains only, no roll-up windows. Leather belts hold the "bonnet" closed. A pair of Sterling Moss-style goggles and a cloth helmet. Open up the gearbox and remove the synchromesh cones so you've got a proper "crash box", and you're good to go.

Roberta X said...

Yeah! --And new parts hand-built by surly British drunks, too! What's not to love?

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

This has all got me wishing I'd kept my '97 Ford Ranger, except that I really would have preferred the club cab version.

Got to go look for one. I need a beater pick-em-up truck, and there sure are still a lot of them around.

Anonymous said...

I second the thought of the Vibe.
Got an '04 with 39K miles a year ago, runs reliably, decent A/C for
Illinois summers, and you can fold
down the front and right-rear seats
and haul 8' lumber home and still
close the back door.
Anon, Don

Drang said...

WWII surplus Dodge Weapons Carrier...

Anonymous said...

Keep it, every one need a little project to keep theyselves out of trouble on the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Small pickumup. Something the Taliban would use,something you can overload and drive like you're being chased by Hellfire.

Anonymous said...

If you're worried about maintainable electronics, get one of the crate motors Ford has out, you can get replacement electronics packages for them. Imagine, a care-worn Ranger with a force-fed 5.4 and a Tremec 6-speed. Heh.

Ok, you could, but that really doesn't mean you should.


perlhaqr said...

I'd lose the Hyundai for a pickup, because having a pickup is damned useful, and fix the MG myself. But I don't have any idea what your mechanical aptitude is for the reconstruction of door sills, etc.