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March 29 Weekly Open Thread

BMW318 As always, this is the place for the off-topic conversation that doesn't belong anywhere else.

Big Chris spotted a really interesting article on Jalopnik last week that I'd like to share; and by "really interesting" I mean "amazing, engrossing, inspiring, and full of win." Evidently a man named Bill Caswell recently raced a $500 1991 BMW 318i that he found on Craigslist in the official FIA World Rally Championship event in Mexico. In other words, he was competing in the same event as all-world drivers and professional, heavily sponsored, hugely expensive rally cars. He finished third in class, 23rd overall--ahead of several full-strength professional WRC cars.

According to Jalopnik:

"Bill Caswell, an unemployed Chicago racing freak, entered the Mexico round of the World Rally Championship in a 1991 BMW 318i that he found on Craigslist. The car cost $500. One year ago, Caswell decided that he wanted to go rallying with Rally America. Two months later, he crashed a car and blew up an engine five minutes into his first event. Four events later, he found a loophole in the FIA rules that let him enter a twenty-year-old car in the same event as guys like Ken Block and former F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen."

This is truly Car Lust in action, and the story is well worth reading, as is this follow-up from Caswell's co-driver. Perhaps our used-car challenges are a little too modest in scope--maybe in the future the winner will be required to purchase the car and compete in an international motorsports event.

--Chris H.

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Index this one under "Awesome, crowning moment of."

That's *exactly* what I'd love to do someday. Maybe I'll find an older beat-up Mazda 323 GTX and rally it. Well, aside from the fact that I'm a wuss and not nearly as resourceful as I'd need to be.

Also - for those of you who want to buy a 1980s European sport coupe like me or John B (who recently bought a Porsche 928 - I'm incredibly jealous), this German sports coupe just popped up on everybody's favorite auction site:
http://tinyurl.com/y8lt3k9

It's a little more expensive than what you'd expect from a 22-year-old car, but it looks to be in decent shape.

That's incredible!! I've actually been interested into getting into a little bit of amateur rallying myself. I have too many things on my plate right now to really make a stab at it, but I'm keeping the idea in my back pocket.

On a different note, I'd like to hear some opinions of the best sources for objective information regarding reliability of used cars. I used to go with Consumer Reports, and still do for the most part, but I've seen some slightly disturbing comments about bias in their opinions over the past few years. I'm looking at the possibility of replacing my wife's vehicle soon, and I need some good info from a good source about what's likely to give us the fewest additional mechanical concerns (I have enough mechanical concerns with my own daily driver and don't want to make things worse). Is CR still the best way to go?

@ Chris Mallow: CR is horribly, horribly, horribly biased. I find CR very very useful when I need to start fires, smash bugs, or clean up messes. Other than that, do not read it. It is filled with lies, lies, and more lies. Best source of information? Owner forums. Type in "whatever car you are interested in" and "forum" in google. Then click on the main forum page, and click "FAQ". Someone will have typed up all the common problems and solutions to that vehicle. Best info ever.

As for CR... just awful, awful, awful magazine. Examples: They reported the 1st generation neon did 0-60mph in 12 seconds. Road and Track, Motortrend, everyone else reported 7.5 seconds. When pressed, CR said they didn't put the pedal down all the way, to 'simulate real world driving'. WTF. Also, they listed the neon as unreliable into 2003 based on headgasket problems that ended in 1998, with the introduction of the MLS gasket. Or the time that they had a woman review the Mazda 6 "sport", then complain that the ride was harsher than the standard model. OF COURSE IT IS, IT IS SPORTY. ARRRGGGGHHHH.

Just thinking about that magazine makes my blood pressure rise.

The Porsche 959 is still my all time favorite Porsche body. Love those lines!

Since this is an almost all "Chris" comment thread, I'll also suggest to you my fellow Chris that the CR is pretty solid in their assessments. Motortrend does some long term testing that can be useful as well. Honda and Toyota are going to regularly be your top brands for what you are looking for, but there are others that are really doing good work on reliability too (like Mazda for instance). Some of it is sheer luck, some of it is how you drive, some of it is how you take care of your cars too. I'm the guy who has an 88 S-10 with 225K and a Dodge Caravan with 215K and a Honda Civic with 220K, so I do know a bit on squeezing every last ounce of drive out of a vehicle. If I was in the market today I'd be looking at Honda/Toyota/Mazda and might also consider Kia and a few other "cheaper" brands and gamble that the low cost might offset some of the chance that it might not survive quite as long as a Honda would.

@Rob: I gave up on CR back in the early 1970s when they recommended buying "A Pinto with an automatic transmission." :(

I worked for Crutchfield in the early '90s. There was a Pioneer 10-disk cartridge CD changer that routinely won CR's ratings for the type. We had just about every one of them we ever sold in our outlet as reconditioned warranty repairs. Around the same time they were also caught giving some inexplicable ratings for washing machines. They rated the Maytag as the best and the Kenmore as the worst. They listed everything they liked about the Maytag, and everything they found substandard about the Kenmore. The only problem is that they were the same machines from the same factory, differing only in badging and in Sears not playing whatever game CR was into at the time. That being said, Honda and Toyota really are the most dependable car brands. I worked as a service writer in an all makes shop and our mechanics swore by them. All the good BMW mechanics I know recommend them for actual transportation too. Recent Mazdas are also very good.

My family has had good luck with recent-vintage Fords, and I'm having good luck so far with my VW. My wife's Mazda 5 is utterly rock solid.

Hondas--well, you have to affirmatively kill Hondas. With appropriate scheduled maintenance, they do not die. At 100,000 miles, you're just emerging from the break-in period.

Yeah, I quit reading CR for pretty much anything. After I got my statistical training I started figuring out how potentially misleading their reliability ratings can be. It mostly involves self-selection bias, which is nothing to sneeze at. Can't say much about editorial(?) bias though.

Actually, I think my skepticism was initially heightened in CR when they kept judging Old Milwaukee beer as their top beer. Sheesh.

I dunno, has anyone heard anything about JD Power? I did a thought exercise once on how to actually do a reliable analysis of reliability, but it is fraught with difficulty.

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