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$100,000 Challenge, Take 2: Nathan of Brainfertilizer Fame's Max Cars Edition

After reading Chris Hafner's post, I realized that if I hadn't gone so Mazda-heavy, I could have gotten some great 20- and 30-year-old cars in my garage.

I wanted to try again, with a fresh slate.  I hope you'll indulge me, and I hope you even find it entertaining.

But I've got to change the rules, slightly.  I'll still have limitations, because limitations help channel and inspire creativity.

First change: no "car currently on sale" requirement.  All cars need to be 20 to 30 years old.  Maybe 15, at most.  The point is to get cars that are old enough to be great value, but not so old as to be "classic".  The point is to catch cars near the bottom part of the trough, where the value has declined as much as possible, but not to the point where the value starts to rebound from rarity/coolness.

Second change: I have to have exactly 20 cars.  No more, no less.  The point is to see how close I can get to the $100k total without going over, for exactly 20 cars.

Third change: All car prices will be according to the NADA "clean retail" price, but here's the twist: if you can manage to find a 20-year-old car in "clean retail" condition, it won't really be ready to go.  The coolant system will be having problems, or it will consume oil as lustily as Vikings drank mead, or the paint will be starting to flake off, or a few minor rust points, or the alignment will be horribly off, get the picture.  A 20-year-old car that wasn't lovingly restored to new condition is going to have some issues.  So right off the bat, I will budget $2000 per car to get it up to speed.  That might go to a tune-up, or a paint job, or a replacement door + paint, or an alignment, or a new radiator, etc.  That might be an underestimation, but we are starting with a "clean retail" example, so I think an average of $2000 will work.

That leaves me with $60,000 to get 20 cars.  So I'm looking for cars I can get for averaging just about $3000 each.

That's the rules I have.  Let's see what I come up with.

Maybe we should start with what didn't make the list, but came close.  Without exception, the problem was that NADA's valuation was just too high for these cars.  To choose one of these cars, I would not only have bumped a cheaper car from the list, but lost a second car, too, because I couldn't afford it anymore.  These cars weren't worth losing two from my list.

1980 Ford Courier, 4cyl, man tran.  Because I used to drive one of these, learned to drive stick-shift in it, and it never broke.  It got decent gas mileage and decent hauling power.

1985 Honda Civic, sedan, man tran.  Because I used to own one of these and it was fun to drive and got great gas mileage.

1997 Toyota Solara.  Because it is the most boring car in the world, I had to see if I could get one.  But even boring, it cost too much.

1995 Toyota Camry.  This is my favorite year for the Camry.  I thought it very attractive.  Interestingly, when I sat in one once, it felt much smaller on the inside than it looked from the outside.

1995 Nissan 240SX.  Nice looking, probably quite sporty.

1987 Lexus ES250.  Why not have the first LEXUS that appeared on the market?  But even that old, it was still too expensive to make the list.

So now that we can get to my actual list, let's get my Mazda jones out of the way. Mazda mx-6

1994 Mazda MX-6 LS.  6-cyl puts out 164hp but still gets 21/26 mpg.

Why?  Because it is a very pretty car.  Okay, that isn't profound, but that sometimes it is enough.  Chris Hafner explains why it is lust-worthy here.  I was interested in getting one with the All-Wheel-Steering system, but they were offered on US models only on the previous generation, which is nowhere near as pretty, and also starts to get above $5000 in NADA"s "high retail", the top category for its "classic" cars section.

This car sets me back $2050.

Photo of 1994 Mazda MX-6 from

1998 Mazda 626 LE, V6, man tran. We all know how much I loved my 1998 Mazda 626 with a 4-cyl.  It 1998-mazda-626-frontside_ma626lx983made my first list (although I went with a newer model to get one in better condition).  This one has the advantage of being nice looking, but it has lost enough value that I can load up on the extra options and get a much more sporty version than I previously drove.  I enjoyed that one so much as a 4cyl auto tran, I'm going to love it with 6 cyl power and a manual transmission!

This car subtracts just $3050 from my total.

Photo courtesy of Kelley Blue Book.


1992 Nissan Maxima. This is actually the car that started the relationship between me and Car Lust.  640px-1992-1994_Nissan_Maxima_--_03-21-2012Chris' description of the early 90s Maxima made me realize how much I wanted a poor man's BMW.  I asked Chris lots of questions, searched all the want ads, discovered that this generation had the best handling because they changed the rear suspension for the next generation, and very nearly ended up buying one before I finally decided I didn't have the coin to fix one of the available examples up to decent condition.  But every time I saw one on the street for the next several years, I felt a slight tinge of regret for passing up the chance.

This takes a $2475 bite out of the $60k.

Photo of a 1992 Nissan Maxima courtesy of Wikipedia.

Honda CRX1989 Honda CRX SI, 4cyl, 108hp. Here's what Cookie the Dog's Owner said about his 1985 CRX. The one in the photo (courtesy of Wikipedia's Creative Commons) is a 1991, but it still gives you a good idea of what they look like.

This is just a great little runaround car, amazingly great gas mileage, and an absolutely blast to drive.  Who wouldn't want one in their garage?

This little beauty sets me back a full $5700, but it was worth it. 


1985 Chrysler Laser XE.  This car doesn't necessarily have a lot to recommend it, I guess.  It wasn't especially fast, nor handled exceptionally well.  On the other hand, as it says in the wikipedia entry: 320px-ChryslerLaserXE1985"The Laser emphasized European luxury, and was intended to be an 'executive personal luxury coupe.' The Laser was sleek, low-slung, and aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of only .35."  For the mid-80s, coming from driving a 1984 Ford Escort, it was gorgeous and powerful.  Also, I liked the electronic dashboard gauges and the trip navigator that told you your fuel efficiency.  So maybe it isn't a great car, but it was pretty in my eyes, decently fun to drive, fairly unique in appearance and short-lived on the market...all of which make it a pretty good object of Car Lust.  Chris Hafner explains his lust for its sister, the Dodge Daytona, here.

And it sets me back just $3725.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.640px-1995_Eagle_Vision_ESi_Sedan_3.5L_-_cropped

1995 Eagle Vision ESi, 6cyl 3.5l. Here's my previous post regarding the Eagle Vision. 

I went with the ESi because I found out that 1995 version of the Vision had the 3.5l 6cyl as an option.  So I get all the 214 hp of the TSi, but a little cheaper.  And remember, folks, the Eagles all had all-wheel drive. I think.  In any case, in my opinion, this is one of the all-time gorgeous cars.  I had to have one.  Cost: Just $2125, balancing out the CRX somewhat.  Photo also courtesy of Wikipedia.

1994 Chrysler LHS. I did have a Chrysler jones for a while, when they were pushing the Cab Forward 640px-1995-1997_LHSconcept.  It made their cars all look very similar, I guess, but I liked all of them.  I very nearly had a Dodge Intrepid on this list, I liked them so much, but too many other cool cars pushed it off.  I have the LHS on this list because back in the day I got to drive one once.  It was very nice.  It floated along the road, but was responsive to the wheel, more responsive than I would have expected in a car that size.  Luxurious.  Spacious.  Pretty.  I don't have more justifications than that, but I don't think I need anything else...not in this crowd. 

Cost today?  Just $2100.  Who could refuse?  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, again.

1998 Ford Contour SVT. This originally was the Honda Civic.  320px-Ford-SVT-Contour But when I thought of this "poor man's BMW", there was no way I could leave it off my list.  It had a slightly cramped backseat, but since the BMW does, too, that's hardly a problem.  The base car itself had European driving characteristics, and in the SVT, they added a tuned 2.5l V6 that produced 195 hp. Plus some other appearance things and an obligatory standard transmission, but I wouldn't want it any other way.  This baby looks unassuming from the outside, but was probably a demon on the roads. I could have sworn Rob the SVX guy wrote a Car Lust post about this, and he could explain it far better than I could, but I can't find it. If someone else does, please leave the link in the comments.  

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.  Blow to the budget?  $3450.

1994 Audi S4 Turbo AWD.  Another car I learned AudiS4about from Rob the SVX guy.  I think he recommended it when I was on my way back from Iraq and needed a daily driver, but wanted a fun one.  I kinda had my sights set on a Mazda3, and in any case wanted a newer one than a (then-15-year-old car), but his arguments stuck with me.  Fast, fun, reliable, and with extremely strong crash safety results (better than many cars 10 and 15 years newer!), it is worthy of Car Lust, and really needs to be in my garage.  With its 2.2l 5cyl Turbo producing 227 hp, most people wouldn't mind having it in theirs, I'm sure.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Subtract $4425 from the budget.  On the high side, but worth every penny.

1994 BMW 530i Wagon. What started this 1995_bmw_5-series_wagon_530i_fq_oem_1_300 alternate garage idea was my surprise that finding an old BMW could be so cheap.  I decided that I should have a BMW on my list, and went fishing.  I decided to go with a 5-series, because: why not?  Bigger, more powerful.  And then since I'm going Euro, why not go full Euro and get a wagon?  I never mind having a little extra storage space, and I feel confident a BMW wagon is still going to be fun to drive.  It has a 3.0l V8 that produces about 215hp.  I feel good about that.

Photo courtesy of It's a 1995, but close enough.

And I was able to get this beauty for just $3400, according to NADA...

Halfway done.  I hope no one is getting bored.

To kick of the 2nd half of the list, I decided I needed a really crappy car.

So I chose a 1978 Chevy Monza, 6cyl, w/ AC. Let me just say up front that despite NADA's premium pricing for classic cars (pretty much anything 20 years and older starts going up in price, often significantly), I was able to add this to my list for just $2700.  I needed something to help my price average, and this was it.  I couldn't get even a Vega for less than $4500, and I just couldn't commit that much to a truly lousy vehicle.  But since I've got this $100k burning a hole in my pocket, why not use some of it to help me appreciate the other 19 more?  Why not truly understand just how bad a car can be?  Of course, if I were ever to get $100k to spend on no more than 20 cars, I'm pretty sure I would be saved from buying a Monza by the fact that there really shouldn't be any left in Clean Retail condition.  If someone managed to keep or return one to that condition, he loves it more than I ever could and shouldn't sell it!  Here are two posts that really explain the Disgust of the Monza: 1 and 2.  No pictures will sully my post, but there are plenty on those pages!

Of course, this next one isn't much better:

A 1987 Volvo GL Station Wagon.  Also nearly Volvo-drs-side-450x337universally reviled at Car Lust, the only difference is the Volvo actually lasts long enough for the mild disgust to become a burning hatred.  Or at least a tired indifference. So why is it in my garage?  I'm impressed with its durability.  I had one, obtained it with 240k mileage on it, and it soldiered on for me for several years.  Lots of good memories in it.  I was always tickled by how you opened the hood to this cavernous space, and there would be a little 4-banger you could cover with your hat.  My love for it is a mile wide and an inch deep.  In this stable it would rarely get driven.  Maybe on a bad snow day or if I know I might have to park in a bad neighborhood.  Also doing the Euro Wagon thing again, if for no other reason but to add to its utility.

Photo courtesy of, although I'm not sure (he didn't say) whether it was a DL or a GL.  Not really even sure of the difference, except that the GL is supposed to have a little more luxury.

Removes another $2700 from what I have to spend.

I always loved my 2001 Honda CR-V, but 1st-Honda-CR-V_since staying on average is important, I went with a 1998 Honda CR-V EX.  Safe, "Real Time" AWD (transfers power to non-slipping wheels only if front wheels slip), reliable, excellent fuel economy, good storage space, comfortable to ride in, and nice looking.  What's not to love? It's 1.6l 4-cyl was always willing to go over mountain passes without loss of speed, even though it screamed like a banshee about to explode the whole time.  In fact, the only thing I didn't like about the CR-V was its excessive road noise.  But that's a problem with most Hondas.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Adding this to my garage takes $4450, well above average, but it is worth it. In fact, I can't believe I never wrote a Car Lust post about it.  The one pictured above looks just like the one I owned...

1994 Ford Mustang GT.  A good car, with lots of power.  1994-2004-ford-mustang-450X370-1994-Ford-Mustang-GT-2-door-coupe I almost went with the previous year, the "fox" Mustang, but that was old enough to be "classic" in NADA's estimation, and I couldn't afford the hit.  But 1994 was when they first brought back the classic styling cues, and a Mustang GT is never a bad choice.

I'm not sure what else to say about it.  Pretty car, at least.  Fast.  Vroom!

Sets me back just $3725.

Photo courtesy of



1989 Pontiac Grand Am, 4cyl man tran.  320px-89-91_Pontiac_Grand_Am_LE_coupeThis is another car that is on my list mainly because I used to own one, and liked it.  It got good gas mileage on the highway, had plenty of pep, and was comfortable on long trips.  It also had coolant problems.  It's on my list because I'm running out of cooler cars, although there are still a few left.  I also still like its looks.  Sets me back $3088, which is a little bit high for a car this mediocre.  But love of Pontiac was a part of my life, so it should be reflected here.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

1994 Subaru SVX AWD.  640px-Subaru_SVX_in_parkland_in_the_British_West_Midlands_first_registered_February_1997_3317cc Great car.  Beautiful.  The world wasn't ready for the SVX.  I loved this car before I had ever heard of Rob the SVX guy.  Everything you need to know about the SVX, you can find here.  All you really need to know is it is kind of a special car. NADA says you can get one in Clean Retail for just $2975.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.


1994 Subaru Impreza Sport Wagon LS AWD.

Remembering the SVX made me consider adding in another Subaru.  They make good cars.  They are great at Rally racing.  You can never have too many station wagons.  So this got added, at a good price of $2625. 

Durable, as all Subarus are.  Good for off-road.  Decent gas mileage.  Lots to love, not much to dislike.  Maybe a little underpowered.

Very difficult to find pictures of, however. Still not sure this is the Sport Wagon.

Still, the picture is courtesy of

Uh-oh.  I've been imprudent.  I've already spent $54,763, and have just $5,237 left.  Let's see if we can still get some cool cars.

1994 Mercury Cougar X-7 V8.  640px-94-97_Mercury_CougarNot bad looking.  Decent power, for the time.

Best thing about it?  You can get one for $1950.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.




1994 Ford Escort GT. 38807394001_largeBecause if it is a GT, it has to be fun to drive, right?

In any case, the GT got an engine 0.1l smaller than the stock engine, but since the smaller engine (1.8l vs 1.9l) was a Mazda DOHC borrowed from their sporty Protege (a car I couldn't find space for on this list), it actually had far more horsepower: 127 vs 88.  In a car this size, that makes a significant difference.  Ford had always done a good job with sporty cars, maybe due to Mazda's zoom-zoom influence.  Dunno, but I think it would be fun to drive.  At just $1875, it would be worth checking out.

Photo courtesy of

We have finally come to the final car in the list.  Just $1412 left to spend...can I do it?


I chose a 1994 Geo Metro xFI.  Geo-metro It is a stripped down model (no passenger mirror) with an economy-tuned 3-cyl engine that managed to get 43/51 mpg.  It had a whopping 49hp.  

It's place in history is assured due to its frugal gas-sipping, so there is no reason to begrudge it a position in my garage.  I would see little reason to drive it, but to have it as a piece of automotive history (like the Monza, I guess, for similar reasons) is well worth the $1300.

Photo courtesy


That's a wrap.  20 cars.  It was actually harder than I thought to find 20 cool cars that I could purchase for an average of just $3000 each.
I think I succeeded well.  What do you think?  What would you replace, and why?  And for how much?


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I still think it would be great to buy 20 Vegas and list the different ailments of each.

...and I thought *this* article was long!
"The Ailments of 20 Vegas" would have to be at least a 10-part series!

Before you bought those Vegas you'd need a fleet of hauling trucks to make sure you could get them back home every time they left you stranded...

Could you actually still round up 20 intact Vegas in running order?

@Eric - only if you harvested the few that were built into drag cars I suspect.

Ur S4! I own the same car in S6 trim (1995), and I spent just $75 more than you do here to get it. :)

I think this post/list captures the spirit of this challenge quite well.

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Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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